Sunday, June 5, 2011

by David McCullough

They came from Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Louisiana, Ohio, North Carolina and almost all of the twenty-four states. Having never crossed the Atlantic before, these Americans were determined to have a new and different life in Paris between the years 1830 and 1900. They were almost all men, except for a few intrepid women; some came with their entire families, some came alone. Having accomplished so much, already, in America, their dreams were to be even more successful in the City of Light.
Medical student Oliver Wendell Holmes and Elizabeth Blackwell (the first female doctor in America) would learn from retired practicing doctors attending patients in twelve hospitals; writer James Fenimore Cooper and Samuel F.B. Morse (the best of friends) would go every day to the Louvre where Morse would paint his masterpiece (he didn't come up with the idea of the telegraph until he returned home); the American ambassador Elihu Washburne remained at his post during the Franco-Prussian war and the horrible Siege of Paris when the Germans invaded and kept an incredible diary of these events.
Sculptor Augustus Saint-Gardens, the painters Mary Cassatt (she was from Philadelphia although born in western Pennsylvania) and John Singer Sargent, were three of the greatest American artists ever and would flourish and be greatly accepted by Paris and its people.
Author David McCullough writes about so many people but highlights their brilliance, prowess, and creativity. He really knows how to tell a story. I have learned an incredible amount of history from the time span and the adventures that our countrymen went through. Paris enriched their lives and affected each and every one of them.
There are scores of paintings and sculptures throughout the book (Samuel Morse's painting is astounding) in both color and black-and-white with photographs of artists, historians, the Eiffel Tower, scenes of Paris, etc.
Phenomenal research is on display here. A truly stupendous read.
Very highly recommended.