Book Reviews

Review: The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough


A Little Background

I must confess that author and historian David McCullough is a secret crush of mine! His wonderful voice, narrating stories on PBS’ American Experience, his amazing prose in his long list of books–wow. This man is the real deal. But, when this book came out in 2011 I was shocked that I couldn’t stick with it. Had he failed me at last? Fast-forward to last week when I needed an audiobook for my commute.  My heart raced as I read about the audio version in the library catalog: David McCullough AND Edward Herrmann. I’m that geeky–it was a love story for my ears! The late Edward Herrmann is/was also a crush of mine. Sigh. What a difference the format can make.


The Story

From the early years of the 19th Century many Americans began crossing the Atlantic to study, sculpt, paint, read, write, wine, and dine, in Paris. From artists to statesmen from doctors to writers, citizens of the young American nation went back to “the old country” or at least back to Europe and straight to Paris to taste a more cultured, less Puritan lifestyle that, by-and-large, agreed with each of them. James Fenimore Cooper, Mark Twain, Senator Charles Sumner, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Mary Casssatt, Theodore Roosevelt Sr and Jr, Harriet Beacher Stowe and Augustus Saint-Gaudens are among the many, many people McCullough discusses in this amazing story.  The characters, whether heard from briefly or throughout the book, have their stories woven in and out of the threads of each other’s lives. Teddy Roosevelt, a mere boy on his visit, gets a brief moment. Charles Sumner a long season. It works beautifully.

My Thoughts

What an enjoyable audiobook! I sat both my office parking lot and my own driveway listening longer than I should have nearly every day. I found myself pulling up online maps and photos and quotes to expand the story. I felt guilty remembering my despair in 2011 when reading the print version. I’m pretty sure it was me at that moment and nothing what-so-ever to do with my beloved David’s prose, but having Edward read it was so nice, too.

The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough



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