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Charles Bracelen Flood is one of my favorite writers of popular history. This is his second book involving Grant (the first one was "Grant and Sherman"); if anything, it's an even more dramatic story than how Grant (and Sherman) won the Civil War. Grant was sitting on top of the world, near-millionaire status, when everything collapsed in 1884: fortune gone and then his health - it gradually became apparent that he was dying from throat cancer. To provide for his family after his death, he turned to writing, and in the process created a highly regarded military memoir, one that's still in print and still getting glowing reviews. (The memoirs themselves are available elsewhere on Audible in an excellent reading by Robin Field.)
Flood gives a detailed account of Grant's last year in this sometimes wryly funny, sometimes deeply moving book. He has a wonderful eye for the characteristic detail, the perfect quote, the illuminating anecdote. It gives a brutally realistic picture of the progress of Grant's disease - something I understand is not to everyone's taste, but for me it was an essential aspect of the story.
Fans of Mark Twain will be pleased by the role he plays in the story. Twain was starting his own publishing firm (one that published "Huckleberry Finn" around the same time), and he offered Grant more generous terms than he was likely to get anywhere else. After Grant's death, Twain's company paid Julia Grant nearly half a million dollars in royalties. (It was Twain's praise of Grant and Grant's writing that first put me onto Grant many years ago.)
Unfortunately, I have to admit that Michael Prichard would not have been my first choice as reader for this particular book. It's an intense, personal story, and Prichard's style is much more "public": he seems to belong to the "narrators should be neutral" school of thought. He gets the story across, but I don't hear a lot of warmth in his voice.
If that doesn't bother you, give this one a try. The story itself is a great story and a story of true greatness. It's begging to be made into a movie.
8 of 9 people found this review helpful
I wanted this to be interesting. I was ready to love it, but alas, it was not to be. Although Michael Prichard did his usual professional job narrating, he was defeated by the dullness of the book. There is far too much focus on the intricate details of Grant's death and dying and way too little about the writing of the book on which the story is supposed to focus.
There is also not nearly enough about Grant's accomplishments, which are mentioned, but never explored. There are hints, without any depth, about his opinions which were, for his time, remarkably egalitarian and unprejudiced. This stuff is important and it was singularly missing.
What information the book contains is often repeated several times and not always consistently. For example, the net worth of Vanderbilt is given three times, each time a different amount. That's bad editing and insufficient proofreading.
This was a man of extraordinary accomplishment: he deserves better than this. Grant's relationship with Mark Twain is mildly interesting, but is almost a post scrpt: there isn't any significant exploration of their interaction. I really WANTED to like this much better than I did.
6 of 7 people found this review helpful