New book focuses on 19th century Americans in Paris

Posted Aug. 29, 2011, at 6:46 p.m.

SEARSPORT — Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David McCullough will sign his newest book, “The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris,” at 10 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 10, at Left Bank Books, 21 East Main Street. The event is free and open to all.

McCullough is perhaps the most honored of American historians, a consummate storyteller who has been the voice of American history for four decades. His work includes the acclaimed biographies “John Adams” and “Truman,” Pulitzer Prize winners in 2002 and 1992 respectively; “1776,” a landmark history that had an initial print run of more than a million copies when it was published in 2005; “Brave Companions,” “Mornings on Horseback,” “The Path Between the Seas,” “The Great Bridge” and “The Johnstown Flood.”

TV and movie viewers know McCullough for his familiar voice on documentaries, including almost two dozen installments of “The American Experience,” Ken Burns’ “The Civil War,” “Smithsonian World” and the 2003 feature film “Seabiscuit.”

For “The Greater Journey,” McCullough found inspiration in a city he adores, Paris, but the story is a thoroughly American one — a group portrait of dozens of aspiring, intrepid and gifted Americans who studied and worked in Paris between 1830 and 1900, then returned to change the course of American history with the ideas and talents they had discovered.

The names represent a who’s who of American achievement, including James Fenimore Cooper, author of “The Last of the Mohicans”; Samuel Morse, celebrated painter as well as inventor of the telegraph and Morse code; Charles Sumner, the great abolitionist; Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., poet essayist and professor of anatomy at Harvard Medical School; Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the brilliant sculptor; George Catlin, painter of the Great Plains Indians; historian Henry Adams; novelist Henry James; painters John Singer Sargent and Mary Cassatt — a pantheon of American intellectuals, scientists, artists, writers, doctors, educators and political thinkers who were forever changed by their experience in Paris and who returned to change America in extraordinary ways.

As McCullough points out, these Americans did not travel to Paris in a diplomatic capacity, as did Franklin or Adams in the 18th century, nor as expatriates such as Hemingway or Fitzgerald in the 20th century. They were not business travelers and did not travel for pleasure or status. Rather, they came for a very specific and serious purpose: to learn, to work, and to make their mark.

In addition to two Pulitzer Prizes, McCullough has been the winner of two National Book Awards and is a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award. A native of Pittsburgh and a graduate of Yale, he is an avid reader, traveler and devoted painter.

For more information, call Left Bank Books at 548-6400.

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