Shortly after losing all of his wealth in a terrible 1884 swindle, Ulysses S. Grant learned he had terminal throat and mouth cancer. Destitute and dying, Grant began to write his memoirs to save his family from permanent financial ruin. As Grant continued his work, suffering increasing pain, the American public became aware of this race between Grant's writing and his fatal illness. Twenty years after his respectful and magnanimous demeanor toward Robert E. Lee at Appomattox, people in the North and the South came to know Grant as the brave, honest man he was, now using his famous determination in this final effort. Grant finished Memoirs just four days before he died in July 1885.
Published after his death by his friend Mark Twain, Grant's Memoirs became an instant bestseller, restoring his family's financial health and, more importantly, helping to cure the nation of bitter discord. More than any other American before or since, Grant, in his last year, was able to heal this - the country's greatest wound.
©2011 Charles Bracelen Flood (P)2011 Tantor
"A lucid, often somber account of the sad but noble decline of Ulysses S. Grant.... A welcome addition to the literature surrounding Grant and his time." (Kirkus)
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.
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.
As a Southerner, I've read lots of books on Lee, Jackson, etc but none on Grant. This book changed my opinion of him somewhat. He seemed generous toward the South and respected by its military leaders and soldiers. I will have to read more about how he allowed Reconstruction and other divisive policies to happen if he was so about bringing union to the country. The first 5/6 of the book were excellent, the last 1/6 focused too much on his death process - although that was key to this book. I think I'll read more on Grant.
Excellent story of US Grant and his final days. Wonderful story of courage in the face of financial disaster and terminal cancer.
So many books, so little time
Grant's Final Victory is a window into American life during the years after the Civil War. Financial scandal, fraud, rapid social change...that time resonates in many ways with our own. The heart of the book is the story of a true hero. The narrator never got in the way of the story and the time flew by as I listened to this account.
Getting a new perspective of what he was like away from the battle field.
Hearing how many Confederates respected him for the way he treated them at Appomatox.
Hearing how his fellow soldiers honored him at his death was very moving.
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