2011: 36. The Greater Journey

“They spoke of it then as the dream of a lifetime, and for many, for all the difficulties and setbacks encountered, it was to be one of the best times ever.”

The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, David McCullough

          I enjoyed this book, because, duh, it’s David McCullough, and the guy can write.  And who doesn’t want to read about Paris, and all the Americans who went there and grew and learned and all that jazz (though, actually, we didn’t make it as far as the jazz age - the book ends before the First World War).  There are lots of interesting things here - I loved learning about the American medical students in the early 1800’s - how you basically had  to go to Paris to learn any real medicine, since medical education in the U.S. was basically medieval. I also learned a bit about the siege of Paris - and subsequent bloody Paris Commune, about the marvelous American ambassador Elihu Washburne (from Maine, no less!), and gobbled down the section about St. Gaudens - a favorite of mine, due to my adoration for his summer home, a NPS site not far from Hanover.  So, the parts of this book, I just thought were great.

        But, the whole was, sadly, not the sum of the parts.  Unlike his other recent books - John Adams, 1776, this just didn’t add up to a whole.  I almost think it would have worked better if it was sold as a collection of articles on a similar topic, than as a coherent work.  There just wasn’t a thesis to convince me that it all came together as one topic.  It is interesting that all these varied people came to Paris, and their stories are, for sure, individually interesting, but, for me, something was lacking, when I think of the book as a whole, and I think that, at some level, it seems like McCullough, just wanted to tell a bunch of stories and said “hey - they all went to Paris - that’s a book,” without really developing it.  To be clear - I enjoyed reading this, and would recommend it, but compared to his other works, it lacked focus.

Categories:  Non-Fiction

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017