Tuesday, April 3, 2012

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

I actually started this non-fiction read about Paris back around Thanksgiving.  I picked it up in audio form and listened to it for a 7 hour round trip, which only got me about half way through the book.  Then, as often happens to me, I had to return it because it had a massive number of holds.  Well, I finally got my hands back on it in February and finished it up.  Talk about one long journey with a book!

Synopsis:  Set in Paris between 1830 and 1900, this non-fiction heavyweight traces the path that multiple Americans made in that famed city.  Looking at everything from medicine, architecture, writing, and art, the book takes in the many influences and events that occurred around the globe to drive people to arrive in Paris.  Although sweeping it its history, the stories are very intimate and real, making famous and unknown both feel present.

Review:  To find the words to describe this book is a real accomplishment.  Comprised of stories of education, passion, and drive, it seems that Paris was a hotbed of activity for anyone wanting to become someone.  Although the stories are not just about people wishing to become great, the stories of renowned and great people rubbing shoulders are pretty interesting. 

One of my favorite things that McCullough brought to life in his book are the stories on a more day to day level.  His chapter on medicine and the surgery were gut wrenching, and so interesting that I could honestly picture the group of doctors gathered around to watch intricate surgeries, knowing their patient would most likely die.  The thought that almost every patient died really struck me.  I can't imagine the pain and suffering someone would have to be in to allow themselves to be put that close to death.  From these early surgeries, however, our modern medical field gained vast amounts of knowledge on anesthesia and anatomy.

The stories really are too many to even retell, but the varieties of people, events, and subjects make this a truly phenomenal read for lovers of history.  How McCullough managed to get to the heart of what people were doing in Paris and what drove them there is amazing to consider.  I found it to be an overwhelming, yet intriguing piece of history that I would recommend for any reader. 

*FTC Disclosure:  This review was based on a library copy of the book.


  1. I wish I could move to Paris! :)

  2. I love David McCullough. I actually get to see him speak in May at a conference being held here in DC.