Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Best Memoirs of Any General Since Caesar

I am currently reading the Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, and what an amazing book it is.  I am always interested in first person accounts of history, untainted by modern political correctness.  Often, these kinds of books require a little "translation" from the stilted language that was often used in the past.  Not this book.  It is as fresh and modern as the sun coming up each morning.

An example of this is my previous post here.

Grant has a unique voice -- familiar, friendly, and full of humility.  He tells stories large and small,  full of the kinds of details that makes you realize people were not so different back then.  His thoughts and decisions and uncertainties and trepedations come out clearly.  The soul of the man is laid open to you.

The book covers his whole life, from boyhood through his days at West Point (he explains he was a rather poor student, and didn't really want to be there), through the Mexican War, the Civil War (the war "rescued" him from a string of job failures), and his Presidency.

Much of the book was written after Grant had been swindled of his fortune and was dying of throat cancer.  Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) helped him finish it, and I am sure contributed to the clarity and beauty of the whole.  The quote in the title of this post is a paraphrase of Mark Twain, "The most remarkable work of its kind since the Commentaries of Julius Caesar."

Grant's Presidency is not considered to have been that great these days, but just to have this honest open man in office would be a revelation.  Maybe his honesty didn't play very well in Washington even back then.

Following Grant's death, sales of his book went through the roof, earning $450,000 for his nearly destitute family. 

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