Historian David A. Bell has a review on the TNR web site of David McCullough’s new book on Americans in Paris. It is sure to be a best-seller stateside in view of the stature of the author. Bell’s review is generally positive, though says the book is not without problems
Unfortunately, the book is also often disappointingly superficial. Particularly in its latter half, Paris becomes little more than a colorful backdrop for a series of amusing but disconnected American stories…. Few French people receive sustained attention in McCullough’s book, and even then we only see them through the eyes of the Americans. In fact, McCullough has done little serious research on the French setting. His bibliography includes few of the standard scholarly studies nineteenth-century Paris, and no works at all in the French language. A particular shame is that he appears not to have visited the major research library for the history of Paris, the Bibliothèque Historique de la Ville de Paris, which contains, among its many treasures, a massive catalogue cross-indexing descriptions and travelers’ accounts of the city—the proper first stop for anyone working on a book such as this one.
Those looking for a treatment of the subject based on research from primary French sources may want to wait for the forthcoming work by historian and longtime American-in-Paris Nancy Green (disclosure: she’s a friend). Her book will be different from McCullough’s, focusing on the formation of the American “colony” in Paris, its elites, its businessmen, its “countesses” and its wayward youth, and more on the 20th century than the 19th. I’ll wait to read this one before looking at McCullough’s, that’s for sure.
UPDATE: Stephen Colbert interviews David McCullough (July 13th) on The Cobert Report (beginning at the 15th minute).