The Greater Journey

The Greater Journey

Americans in Paris, 1830-1900

Book - 2011 | 1st Simon & Schuster hardcover ed.
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Baker & Taylor
The best-selling author of 1776 tells the story of the generations of American artists, writer, and doctors who traveled to Paris--the intellectual, scientific, and artistic capital of the western world; fell in love with the city and its people; and changed America through what they learned there. 2 million first printing.

& Taylor

McCullough mixes famous and obscure names and delivers capsule biographies of everyone to produce a colorful parade of educated, Victorian-era American travelers and their life-changing experiences in Paris.
Relates the story of the American artists, writers, and doctors who traveled to Paris in the nineteenth century, fell in love with the city and its people, and changed America through what they learned there.

Simon and Schuster
The Greater Journey is the enthralling, inspiring—and until now, untold—story of the adventurous American artists, writers, doctors, politicians, architects, and others of high aspiration who set off for Paris in the years between 1830 and 1900, ambitious to excel in their work.

After risking the hazardous journey across the Atlantic, these Americans embarked on a greater journey in the City of Light. Most had never left home, never experienced a different culture. None had any guarantee of success. That they achieved so much for themselves and their country profoundly altered American history. As David McCullough writes, “Not all pioneers went west.” Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female doctor in America, was one of this intrepid band. Another was Charles Sumner, who enrolled at the Sorbonne because of a burning desire to know more about everything. There he saw black students with the same ambition he had, and when he returned home, he would become the most powerful, unyielding voice for abolition in the U.S. Senate, almost at the cost of his life.

Two staunch friends, James Fenimore Cooper and Samuel F. B. Morse, worked unrelentingly every day in Paris, Cooper writing and Morse painting what would be his masterpiece. From something he saw in France, Morse would also bring home his momentous idea for the telegraph.

Pianist Louis Moreau Gottschalk from New Orleans launched his spectacular career performing in Paris at age 15. George P. A. Healy, who had almost no money and little education, took the gamble of a lifetime and with no prospects whatsoever in Paris became one of the most celebrated portrait painters of the day. His subjects included Abraham Lincoln.

Medical student Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote home of his toil and the exhilaration in “being at the center of things” in what was then the medical capital of the world. From all they learned in Paris, Holmes and his fellow “medicals” were to exert lasting influence on the profession of medicine in the United States.

Writers Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mark Twain, and Henry James were all “discovering” Paris, marveling at the treasures in the Louvre, or out with the Sunday throngs strolling the city’s boulevards and gardens. “At last I have come into a dreamland,” wrote Harriet Beecher Stowe, seeking escape from the notoriety Uncle Tom’s Cabin had brought her. Almost forgotten today, the heroic American ambassador Elihu Washburne bravely remained at his post through the Franco-Prussian War, the long Siege of Paris and even more atrocious nightmare of the Commune. His vivid account in his diary of the starvation and suffering endured by the people of Paris (drawn on here for the first time) is one readers will never forget. The genius of sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the son of an immigrant shoemaker, and of painters Mary Cassatt and John Singer Sargent, three of the greatest American artists ever, would flourish in Paris, inspired by the examples of brilliant French masters, and by Paris itself.

Nearly all of these Americans, whatever their troubles learning French, their spells of homesickness, and their suffering in the raw cold winters by the Seine, spent many of the happiest days and nights of their lives in Paris. McCullough tells this sweeping, fascinating story with power and intimacy, bringing us into the lives of remarkable men and women who, in Saint-Gaudens’s phrase, longed “to soar into the blue.” The Greater Journey is itself a masterpiece.

Publisher: New York : Simon & Schuster, c2011.
Edition: 1st Simon & Schuster hardcover ed.
ISBN: 9781416571766
Branch Call Number: 920.009213044 McC
Characteristics: 558 p., [48] p. of plates : ill. (some col.), maps ; 25 cm.


From the critics

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Aug 11, 2019


Jan 22, 2019

There is not much Mr. Mccullough gets wrong and this subject matter is delightfully powerful. The coincidence of powerful historical occurence would overrun a lesser writer. This is a gift to the collective minds.

Oct 10, 2017

Throughly enjoyed this book! I think it is probably like taking an art history course. I learned so much about American Artists and happily have gotten to see some of their Art first hand recently. I have also seen some of their pieces in the past and reading this book rekindles excitement. Knowing more details of an artists background helps illuminate their finished works. Very interesting to learn about the Artists inter-relationships through Paris and all the energy and innovation taking place at this time. McCullough's writing almost makes you feel a part of this time in history!

Mar 28, 2017

Probing research whose results are related in detail-rich anecdotes without much in the way of preconceived prejudice (except that the Paris Commune was a Very Bad Thing!).

While set in Paris, the city is evoked only in relation to the experience of Americans in the 19th century. The subject, that is, is Americans in Paris from circa 1820 to circa 1900, and nothing else. The author refrains altogether from talking about the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, which gives reading the volume a pleasantly escapist feeling.

McCullough's pedestrian style doesn't rival the prose of many of his subjects, but the book is so rich in lengthy quotations that an impatient reader never has long to wait for a change of voice. (This unpretentious style is no doubt one of the reasons for McCullough's popular success.)

The individuals the author is most interested in are artists.

Nov 24, 2013

I've been listening to the book on CD and decided I needed to get the hard copy to follow up on all the characters he talks about. I am fascinated to hear history from the point of view of individuals and interested in how he researched and developed all the stories.

Terry1865 Aug 15, 2013

This book was just recommended to me. It is marvelous! McCullough covers medical student Oliver Wendell Holmes, Minister to France Elihu Washburne and the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens in special detail. Many other famous persons from history are intertwined throughout the book.I very much enjoyed following the stories of these adventurous characters to the end of their lives,

While I learned a lot about the city of Paris and the Americans who have visited it between the 1830s to the end of the nineteenth century, McCullough’s approach is staid, elitist and old school. Horatio Alger is an unmentioned presence, and he clearly admires ambition, success, fame and power. The Greater Journey is a history of “winners”—a kind I rarely read anymore. The book’s premise is interesting, but the results are disappointing. I’m neither as sympathetic to any of the reigning monarchs as this writer evidently is nor as dismissive of the radical forces that struggled to overthrow them. Many voices are left out, and there’s much more to the narratives that are included than this author is willing to relate (or, in all likelihood, capable of seeing).

LisaRiegel Feb 14, 2012

As always, McCullough bring history to life through his detailed, skillful and beautifully paced storytelling.

gracindaisy Jan 14, 2012

In the 1800’s Paris was the cultural capital of the world – a mecca for artists, writers, and doctors. Many famous and not so famous Americans - Elizabeth Blackwell, James Fenimore Cooper, George Healy, Samuel Morse, John Singer Sargent, Mary Cassatt, Augustus Saint-Gaudens and many others.

Oct 19, 2011

A slightly rambling but very interesting account of Americans in Paris in the 19th century, before the usually studied period of the early 20th.

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Mar 28, 2017

jensenmk thinks this title is suitable for All Ages


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