Among the autobiographies of great military figures, Ulysses S. Grant’s is certainly one of the finest, and it is arguably the most notable literary achievement of any American president: a lucid, compelling, and brutally honest chronicle of triumph and failure. From his frontier boyhood, to his heroics in battle, to the grinding poverty from which the Civil War ironically rescued him, these memoirs are a mesmerizing, deeply moving account of a brilliant man told with great courage as he reflects on the fortunes that shaped his life and his character. Written under excruciating circumstances—Grant was dying of throat cancer—and encouraged and edited from its very inception by Mark Twain, it is a triumph of the art of autobiography.
Grant was sick and broke when he began work on his memoirs. Driven by financial worries and a desire to provide for his wife, he wrote diligently during a year of deteriorating health. He vowed he would finish the work before he died, and one week after its completion, he lay dead at the age of 63.
Publication of the memoirs came at a time when the public was being treated to a spate of wartime reminiscences, many of them defensive in nature, seeking to refight battles or attack old enemies. Grant’s penetrating and stately work reveals a nobility of spirit and an innate grasp of the important fact, which he rarely displayed in private life. He writes in his preface that he took up the task “with a sincere desire to avoid doing injustice to anyone, whether on the National or the Confederate side.”
“The best [memoirs] of any general’s since Caesar.” (Mark Twain)
“One of the most unflinching studies of war in our literature.” (William McFeeley, Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of Ulysses S. Grant)
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Lived up to expectations
The story itself and the narrator
When Lee's Army surrendered, I cheered! I was so sad by the part when Grant learns about the death of Lincoln. Recently saw the movie Lincoln, tied back to Grant's autobiography nicely.
Simply, "US Grant"
It's long, no doubt. It never got boring to me and it's amazing to listen to Grant writing in the first person about things that happened 150 years ago.
- H. Connelly
Wonderful telling of a fabulous story
The writing and reading went together seamlessly. It felt as if I was listening to Grant tell his own story.
I haven't listened to other performances by Field, but I will be!
With a story as grand and terrible as that of a civil war it's hard to choose one moment. Grant's dismay at the loss of life at Cold Harbor is particularly poignant as he recognized its futility and his responsibility for it.
To get the full picture of Grant's story, be sure to listen to the Appendix. These official reports offer insight into his decision making process that is sometimes missing from the narrative in the Memoirs proper.