Love Biography? Love Paris? This Book Is for You

I love French history, but I hate reading French history texts. That’s why I adored “The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris.”

Written by two-time Pulitzer-prize winner David McCullough, author of Truman and John Adams, the book profiles American writers, artists, doctors, musicians, politicians, and others who, for various reasons, made their way to the City of Lights in the 19th Century.

The book follows the paths each American (including James Fenimore Cooper, Samuel Morse, Oliver Wendall Holmes, Mary Cassatt, John Singer Sargent, and others) took in France, and reveals how the city itself inspired, challenged, and nudged them towards excellence.

I’m a biography junkie, so of course, I devoured it; in fact, it was like getting 20 or so great biographies in one big book, and better yet because all the action took place in France.

But what I loved even more about the book was that it was the most enjoyable way in the world to finally grasp the history of 19th Century France. Even though I studied the country’s history and civilization in college, in later years, I could never keep the whole Franco-Prussian War/Paris Siege/Commune thing straight. But now that I’ve read about all this through the lives of the Americans living there during the time (especially Elihu Washburne, the American ambassador to France), the events will stay with me. And its bound to enrich my next journey to the city.

Remember this book next time you’re flipping through some cable channels and finding the history/culture programming so thin, depthless, and unsatisfying. This is a painstakingly researched book, but reads like a great novel—with Paris as the protagonist.

 

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