David McCullough's next book is about Americans who headed to Paris

Historians in the News

When people think of American history of the mid-1800s, they usually think of the great westward expansion, the opening up of new territory, of covered wagons and the forging of the American frontier myth.

But, as historian David McCullough notes in the first chapter of his latest book: “Not all the pioneers went west.”

A lot went the other way, too, intent on opening up new territories of their minds. And many went to France.

So many were they, in fact, and so notable in their achievements, that they cried out for a book. Or two or three books. Mr. McCullough, a resident of West Tisbury, told his large audience at the Vineyard Haven Public Library on Sunday that the major problem in researching his new book on those Americans was deciding whom to leave out.

And so, the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian said, he felt like a movie casting director as he assembled his material. As if they would audition for him, “Tell me what they can do and show me a little bit about it.

“Then I decide whether they’re going to make the cut.”

The book on Americans in Paris is still a work in progress. Mr. McCullough is not even sure yet exactly when it will end. By which we don’t mean when he will finish writing — the book is due for release next year — but when the events within it will finish. He thinks probably around the start of World War I, in 1913 or 1914.

The start of the book, though, is more precise. It begins in the 1830s, because, as he said, the exodus of notable minds to Europe, which began at that time, has not been well covered by historians....
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