I would have been bored to tears with this one if it wasn’t for McCullough’s great writing style. As it is, that barely made it tolerable … almost completely uninteresting subject matter as far as I am concerned. A bunch of Americans spent time studying or making art in Paris. There’s not much tying all their random experiences together. Kind of a unique take on history – the story of a single city from the perspective of a single class of individual. But anyway, I didn’t really enjoy it nearly as much as McCullough’s other books. Didn’t really see the point.
There are some items of interest, however. One is Samuel Morse, of telegraph fame. He was an accomplished painter, working in Paris. He became inspired by the French semaphor flag telegraphy relay system and figured out how to make it work with an electric line. Right there is one benefit of travel and seeing different ways of doing things. (Sidenote on “diversity” — I think the diversity that is important and needed is such diversity of ideas, not necessarily of race or other classifications.) But then again, I also think the world is much smaller now that it used to be, and becoming more homogenous by the day. Is there anything to be gained from travel in 2015 as there was in 1815? Is it all just a bunch of tourist traps?
Second interesting bit was about the heroics of Elihu Washburne during the Prussian Siege and the Commune. Not fun times to be in Paris, but Washburne served his role as American diplomat with courage and honor.