An ambitious, wide-ranging study of how being in Paris helped spark generations of American genius.
Not content to focus on a few of the 19th-century American artists, doctors and statesmen who benefited enormously from their Parisian education, award-winningÃÂ historian McCullough (1776, 2005, etc.) embraces a cluster of aspiring young people such as portraitist George Healy and lawyer Charles Sumner, eager to expand their horizons in the 1830s by enduring the long sea passage, then spirals out to include numerous other visitors over an entire eventful century. In the early period of trans-Atlantic travel, American tourists were truly risking their lives over the weeks of rough sailing, but novelist James Fenimore Cooper, widowed schoolteacher Emma Hart Willard and young medical student Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. all knew their education was not complete without a stint in the medieval capital. For many of these American rubes, exposure to the fine arts, old-world architecture, fashion, fine dining, museums and teaching hospitals proved transformative, and the knowledge they gained would define their professional lives back in America. The year in Paris artist Samuel Morse painted his extraordinaryÃÂ The Gallery of the LouvreÃÂ would provide the climax of one careerÃÂ and segue into another—as inventor of the electric telegraph. The revolutionary upheaval of 1848, the advent of the Second Empire and the massive redesign wrought by "demolition artist" Georges-EugÃÂ¨ne Haussmann changed Paris profoundly, some said for the better, while the Americans continued to arrive: sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Congressman Elihu B. Washburne and painter Mary Cassatt, among many others. For some, like John Singer Sargent, who had been brought up traversing European capitals, their time spent in Paris would reveal what made them quintessentially American.
A gorgeously rich, sparkling patchwork, eliciting stories from diaries and memoirs to create the human drama McCullough depicts so well.Copyright Kirkus 2011 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.
One of America's most popular historians and a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, McCullough (1776) has hit the historical jackpot. Travelers before the telephone era loved to write letters and journals, and McCullough has turned this avalanche of material into an entertaining chronicle of several dozen 19th-century Americans who went to Paris, an immense, supremely civilized city flowing with ideas, the arts, and elegance, where no one spit tobacco juice or defaced public property. They discovered beautiful clothing, delicious food, the art of dining ("The French dine to gratify, we to appease appetite," wrote John Sanderson). Paris had not only pleasures but professional attractions as well. Artists such as Samuel F.B. Morse, Whistler, Sargent, and Cassatt came to train. At a time when American medical education was fairly primitive, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. and other prospective physicians studied at the Sorbonne's vast hospitals and lecture halls--with tuition free to foreigners. Authors from Cooper to Stowe, Twain, and James sometimes took up residence. McCullough mixes famous and obscure names and delivers capsule biographies of everyone to produce a colorful parade of educated, Victorian-era American travelers and their life-changing experiences in Paris. (May)[Page ]. Copyright 2010 PWxyz LLC