Friday, February 15, 2013

February 2013 Book Club Report

submitted by Anita Witten:

Last month, the Book Club read David McCullough's marvelous Greater Journey, which we discussed on Feb.5th. It's IMPRESSIVE. This tour de force is a history of a century (the 19th) of Americans drawn to Paris for many reasons. Winner of Pulitzers for his biographies Truman and John Adams, the author's ability to dramatize and carry us through those years and over 400 pages is stunning; one reader thought it was too much to handle.
We can look forward to another Pulitzer and, again, perhaps, another TV series based on McCullough output. A tremendous amount of research is attested to by the extensive bibliography. On his view of history he said: "To me, history ought to be a source of pleasure (it was) - an enlargement of the experience of being alive" YES. And: "Writing a book is like being under a spell...almost as in hypnosis." YES again.
Born in 1933 in Pittsburgh, of Scots and Irish background, he drew cartoons as a child, loved school and eventually at Yale studied with John O'Hara, Robt. Penn Warren and was a close friend of Thornton Wilder. In the midst of a journalism career, Sports Illustrated and Time/Life, he switched focus; wanting to tell the "story of people" and said "I want my subject to show "people who were not always inept or foolish". In describing the allure of Paris for Americans, often overwhelmed with admiration of the highly developed culture of the Old World, we share their adjustment and awe. He ranges from the early diplomats of the New World who sail for months on dangerous seas *to arrive to the hopeful artists obsessed with copying in the Louvre and medical students who enjoy the accessibility to cadavers; many of the unknown paupers dying daily.
Pick a famous American artist, architect, inventor, writer, and read his story of learning in Paris: Samuel B. Morse; James Fenimore Cooper; Whistler; Sargent; Mary Cassatt; George Catlin and his tribal companions; Oliver Wendell Holmes, sculptor St. Gaudens, who gets great coverage; and many of our personal heroes such as Mary Putnam, celebrated medical student and M.D. Meet Louis Phllippe who posed for Sargent and then Napoleon III and suffer through the eyes of the beneficent Washburn,US ambassador during the violence of the Communards and the Prussian War. This book carries away the reader.
* note- the first steamship crossing was in 1838