“Little of consequence is ever done alone.”
– David McCullough
Last week my wife and I went to see the historian David McCullough speak about his new book The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris. I’ve seen David McCullough speak twice before and always found his talks to be thoughtful and inspiring.
On this occasion, McCullough spoke on the courage of Americans who went to France between 1830 and 1900 because they were “in love with learning and advancing their abilities.” They made the difficult trip across the Atlantic that lasted anywhere from one to three months. They remained there despite language differences and outbreaks of disease such as cholera. Upon their return, they applied knowledge acquired in France to improve America. Greater competence in their chosen fields was not all they gained. Their character had changed as well. Exposure to new people, new ideas, exquisite art and architecture, broadened their perspective, lifted their spirits and inspired them to make a difference.
The stories McCullough told were marvelous. His enthusiasm was contagious as he recounted the tales of Harriett Beecher Stowe, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Emma Willard and others. James Fenimore Cooper, while writing in Paris, visited the Louvre every afternoon to speak words of encouragement that would help his friend, Samuel F.B. Morse, persevere in painting the masterpiece Gallery of the Louvre. It was in France that Morse learned something that gave him the idea for the telegraph. Charles Sumner, while studying at the Sorbonne, came to know black students who were his equal in their aspirations and intelligence. He returned to America to become an influential voice for abolition despite threats against his life. The flow of ideas and knowledge, reflected in these personal accounts, is something I’ve written about in Fired Up or Burned Out and in the article “Encouraging Knowledge Flow” that appeared in Perdido.
This summer I’ll be reading The Greater Journey and another of McCullough’s books, The Great Bridge. If you’ve not already picked up books for summer reading, I encourage you to check out these titles. I’ve also thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend Brave Companions, John Adams and Mornings on Horseback, also by David McCullough.
In early May I spoke at the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) International Conference and Exposition in Denver on the topic “Do Leaders Need to Make Employees Happy?”. Read more »