The Greater Journey

The Greater Journey Summary

The #1 bestseller that tells the remarkable story of the generations of American artists, writers, and doctors who traveled to Paris, the intellectual, scientific, and artistic capital of the western world, fell in love with the city and its people, and changed America through what they learned, told by America’s master historian, David McCullough.

Not all pioneers went west.

In The Greater Journey, David McCullough tells the enthralling, inspiring—and until now, untold—story of the adventurous American artists, writers, doctors, politicians, and others who set off for Paris in the years between 1830 and 1900, hungry to learn and to excel in their work. What they achieved would profoundly alter American history.

Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female doctor in America, was one of this intrepid band. Another was Charles Sumner, whose encounters with black students at the Sorbonne inspired him to become the most powerful voice for abolition in the US Senate. Friends James Fenimore Cooper and Samuel F. B. Morse worked unrelentingly every day in Paris, Morse not only painting what would be his masterpiece, but also bringing home his momentous idea for the telegraph. Harriet Beecher Stowe traveled to Paris to escape the controversy generated by her book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Three of the greatest American artists ever—sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, painters Mary Cassatt and John Singer Sargent—flourished in Paris, inspired by French masters.

Almost forgotten today, the heroic American ambassador Elihu Washburne bravely remained at his post through the Franco-Prussian War, the long Siege of Paris, and the nightmare of the Commune. His vivid diary account of the starvation and suffering endured by the people of Paris is published here for the first time.

Telling their stories with power and intimacy, McCullough brings us into the lives of remarkable men and women who, in Saint-Gaudens’ phrase, longed “to soar into the blue.

Book Reviews

Adam's Ghost

Masterful4 star

It is a rare talent that can tell a tale of unrelated artists and political figures during an obscure period of French history and turn it into a tale that you won't want to put down. Art work you have known will suddenly have an associated personality, and an otherwise un noted era will assume a real feel through the experiences of these characters. The book is time and money well spent45

Emmet Aloysius

Excellent Book5 star

Informative & entertaining book with many memorable real-life characters and full of historical knowledge & insight. A fun read but also educational...EAF55


Great detail5 star

Many great Americans are collected here; many who spent time together starting their crafts and mostly young lives. Beginning in an earlier period than I was familiar with Americans in Paris (1830s) it covers Americans who I don't even associate with France. It covers professional, student, and family lives of people in the foreign service, artists, medical students and just those who sought enrichment in France through the period of the Eiffel tower. You also get a lot of information on who headed the government at different times, war with Germany and the Communards. Very well written.55

Alice Broughton

The Greater Journey5 star

Wonderful book. So well written and so full of history and bits of biographical history I had never before read in my art history books. These neglected bits have been very helpful in understanding the different artists written about and give useful insights into their thinking and processes. David McCullough has done an immense lot of research for his readers. This work is also helpful in understanding French history and the relationship between the United States and France.55

Sue-with Grace

The Greater Journey5 star

What a delight, reading this book! With the use of an i-pad and the Internet, it was a very rich and meaningful way to explore the paintings and sculptures of the artists, and to see pictures of what they looked like. I felt I was going through a special enrichment program of the artists lives and their art, and getting to feel the excitement, flair, and almost ethereal aura of Paris, as if I were with them, finding my life changed, along with theirs. I found the book immensely entertaining, and I plan on reading it again some day. I have never encountered a book quite like this one. Indeed, just as the artists found themselves pining away and gravitating back to Paris over and over again, I may find myself returning to this book, because somehow, the magic is there, captured in the pages.55


The Greater Journey5 star

Excellent approach and history of a great city revealing aspects of American history and Americans.55

1& only

The Greater Journey5 star

One of the most interesting books I have read covering a period of time and a subject that was not well known to me and not generally well covered. McCullough is a master of historical writing. His organization skills and insights are second to none. I have read all his offerings and enjoyed them all, but this was my favorite.55


McCullough Excels Again5 star

Never a miss, always a hit. David's writing excels as does the story. Definitely a Summer read!!55

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