Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Greater Journey, Americans in Paris. . .A Review

Do you know how much influence France, and especially Paris, has had on the US? You may be surprised.


Cover, The Greater Journey, by David McCullough, 2011


The Greater Journey
American stories of Paris by those who made the journey. It continues.

Drawn like moths to light, Americans came to Paris to experience the culture and to learn in the city considered the most advanced of its time. The best in France would teach the brightest from the young USA. Most of those who went to absorb Paris had independent means or generous parents. The eager, hardworking medical students learned new techniques, and incorporated the ideas into medical procedures in the United States. In between classes, their ideas about society changed, some with profound results. American artists and art students were welcomed into the ateliers of established French artists. Writers found a new audience and a city that provided an endless source of inspiration. If you had talent, Paris was the place to be.

Most Americans who came to Paris stayed for a few months to a few years. Early in the migration of American visitors, prior to steam, the voyage from New York to Le Havre took approximately 26 days. By the 1870s, steamships reduced the trip to about two weeks. McCullough takes us through the past from the 1830s through the golden years and the lean times and leaves us at the cusp of the 20th century (1901). We learn about 'Lady Liberty', better known as the Statue of Liberty, the gift from France to the United States, with a 'supporting' contribution by the master builder and engineer, Gustav Eiffel. This structural design was prior to the building of his iconic tower for the 1889 Exhibition Universelle de Paris.

In this book, you will learn about Major General Marquis Gilbert de Lafayette, Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), Samuel F. B. Morse, John Singer Sargent, Charles Sumner, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Elizabeth Blackwell; That's just the beginning. Americans were there in Paris during the cholera, the American Civil War, the Haussman reconstruction, the Prussian siege, and the Communard coup. They saw firsthand the difference in how the French people reacted to life, their love of art and their innate resilience. Letters and journals are used to show the detail of life in Paris from the American visitor's point of view. He includes a wealth of illustrations. Through inventions, improvements to medical processes and hygiene, the American life was improved through the association with France.



Paris Exhibition Promo, Paris 1889, wiki, PD*




Are you a history buff or do you like the stories (behind the history) about Paris? Factual stories? Do you have any favorites of the many American or French historical names listed?

I highly recommend reading this book, if you like history, especially the kind that explains the machinations behind many high profile events which took place in Paris between 1830 and 1901. I'm keeping it as a reference book.

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References:

Exposition Universelle 1889 - wiki
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exposition_Universelle_(1889)

Major Gen. Marquis Gilbert de Lafayette
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Major_General_Marquis_Gilbert_de_Lafayette

David McCullough's, The Greater Journey, Americans in Paris
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Greater_Journey

How Paris Created America ( A review) by Stacy Schiff, NY Times
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/29/books/review/book-review-the-greater-journey-americans-in-paris-by-david-mccullough.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

*Image Credit: 1889 Paris Exposition Promotion

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***

35 comments:

  1. Sounds like an amazing history lesson.

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    1. I agree, Alex, much better than dry textbooks. A lot of research went into this book.

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  2. You know me: I am a history buff for sure. I will look into this book. I have chuckled at Samuel Clemens' remarks about the Can-Can. I had forgotten you mentioning this book. Glad you liked it.

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    1. That means Samuel must have checked out the Moulin Rouge or some other dance hall, I'd guess. . . history buffs would love this book.

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  3. I prefer fiction, but I enjoy learning little-known facts about US history. If memory serves, I believe it was our little revolution that inspired the French to overthrow their own monarchy. Guess it worked both ways.

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    1. Ideas do catch on when you see others getting their freedom. Other factors included the money spent helping the US in their battles.

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  4. I will add it to my wish list. My mom loved Paris. In earlier times, some of my husband's Creole ancestors moved there and are buried there.

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    1. So much history made so much more interesting with the background info. That's an interesting fact, Inger, about your hub's ancestors. Originally, New Orleans families did send their young to be educated in Paris. (judging from what I've read in a couple of books)

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  5. How fascinating. Amazing how much influence France has had on our culture.

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  6. Hi DG - I remember your praise for the Graham Robb book "Parisians" a mix of novel and reality - but a well researched is so much easier to read.

    This sounds a fascinating period to read about - I remember reading about Samuel Clemens being here in Paris, and being fascinated with automatons ...

    I must read Robb's book first .. but I'll remember this .. and thanks for the informed review - Hilary

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    1. I enjoyed both, but The Greater Journey taught me more about Paris and French history, Hilary.

      All my book reviews are under tabs at the top if you want to refer to an older review, and I just started a 2014 list.

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  7. certain eras of history really fascinate me. And I can't pass up an old concrete foundation or a pile of bricks and wonder what was there before.

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    1. A writer has to be curious in mind, although some of us are curious in nature, too.

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  8. I enjoy history and I like McCullough's writing. May have to check this one out. The title makes me think of the great Gershwin inspired film with Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron. I recently watched An American in Paris again on TCM. They show it periodically and I almost always watch that film when it's on TV. I probably should buy the DVD.

    Lee
    An A to Z Co-Host
    Tossing It Out

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  9. I absolutely love that movie, An American in Paris and the actors. Leslie Caron is one of my fave French actresses. Someone once said I looked like her. Couldn't have pleased me more, even if it was flattery.

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    1. Blogger is playing games with my comments. This reply was for you, Lee.

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  10. I lean more toward fiction, but I love non-fiction like this because it sounds a lot more interesting than leafing through a textbook. And if anything, I'd probably read this book just for the Mark Twain part.

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    1. It's rich in detail due to a great amount of research and to incorporating details about what was happening at the same time in the US, Britain, and Germany.

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  11. I love world history. And since I live in St. Louis, French influences are all around me.

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    1. So do I, Jay. There's so much to learn. I didn't know St. Louis had a French influence. Interesting.

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  12. I'm not really a history buff, but I do enjoy the occasional historical fiction. This book sounds interesting.

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    1. It's full of interesting facts and illustrations of the people mentioned. Diplomats, doctors, artists, teachers, writers, even dentists and engineers made their way across the Atlantic.

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  13. I've been fascinated with many stories about Americans in Paris (or France). The two people who intrigue me the most are Josephine Baker ad Julia Child. They found wonderful success in France!

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    1. Two interestings ladies, for sure. I would probably prefer to know more about the dancer, Josephine Baker. We visited the cremated remains section of Pere Lachaise Cemetery to find Isadora Duncan's resting place, another dancer in Paris.

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  14. I have a cousin that went to Paris on a student exchange program, and he never came back. Okay, well, he did, once, about a decade later with his new-ish son in tow because his mother threatened bodily harm on him if he didn't bring her grandson to meet her.

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    1. We met a guy from Missouri (a walking tour guide) who told us he visited Paris, met a girl, fell for her and stayed on, too. So many stories in the City of Light.

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  15. D.G., I've got to read this for obvious reasons. It is always lovely to learn a bit more.

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    1. Yes, you'd like it, Denise! We purchased it and 'Parisians' at the same time.

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  16. Hi there, greetings from Northern Ontario. I'm just stopping by to say how delightful your blog is. Thanks so much for sharing. I have recently found your blog and am now following you, and will visit often. Please stop by my blog and perhaps you would like to follow me also. Have a wonderful day. Hugs, Chris
    http://chelencarter-retiredandlovingit.blogspot.ca/

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    1. Hello and welcome, Chris! I'll be by to visit you, and thanks for the follow. I've never been to northern Ontario, and I like that you refinish old furniture. . .

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  17. This makes me want to grab the kids, jump on the train, and spend the day in Paris.....the kids are on holiday.....hummmm.... ;)

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    1. If I were as close as you, I would make a day trip. You deserve it, right? The Greater Journey is a fascinating book about Paris.

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  18. I read this post already, so this is to say thanks for stopping by.

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    1. My pleasure, a photo always lures me to your blog, Inger.

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