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Personal Memoirs

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  3,834 ratings  ·  388 reviews
President Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885) was one of the most esteemed individuals of the nineteenth century. His two-volume memoirs, sold door-to-door by former Union soldiers, have never gone out of print and were once as ubiquitous in American households as the Bible. Mark Twain, Gertrude Stein, Matthew Arnold, Henry James, and Edmund Wilson hailed these works as great lit ...more
Hardcover, 702 pages
Published January 1st 1999 by Modern Library (first published 1885)
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Average rating 4.18  · 
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There is one West Pointer, I think in Missouri, little known, and whom I hope the Northern people will not find out. I mean Sam Grant. I knew him well at the Academy and in Mexico. I should fear him more than any of their officers I have yet heard of. (Rebel Gen. Ewell, May 1861)

Grant’s Personal Memoirs (1885) define understatement but not modesty. Grant shows rather than tells what a badass he is. In recounting the war, Grant rarely quotes himself or relates his conversation but to a drop some
I read this because of a review. The reviewer wrote that they had read this book to their Father while in was in hospital. The image of that situation struck me. What with one thing and another it was the kind of thing I could imagine doing myself, although as it happened the only book I ended up reading to my father in hospital was The Cruel Sea, Grant's Memoirs will always be appropriate as a choice of end of life reading since they were written as he was dying of throat cancer.

The use of lang
Mar 04, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The cause of the great War of the Rebellion against the United States will have to be attributed to slavery… It is probably well that we had the war when we did… our republican institutions were regarded [by the nations of Europe] as experiments … and monarchical Europe generally believed that our republic was a rope of sand that would part the moment the slightest strain was brought upon it. Now it has shown itself capable of dealing with one of the greatest wars that was ever made…

President Gr
Dec 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Twain famously compared Grant's Personal Memoirs to Caesar's De Bello Gallico, to stress not only the quality of the work, but more importantly to increase book sales. The comparison makes sense superficially: both memoirs were written by the leading generals of the day in a concise economy of style; both men were instrumental in cementing their respective nations' transformation from republic to Empire; and the works of both men were celebrated by the foremost men of letters of the day (Cicero' ...more
Mar 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: war, autumn, history, memoir
Stunning. I thought Julius Caesar and Winston Churchill could write of war and leadership but Grant's memoirs blew me away. Written while he was dying in an effort to provide future funds for his family, the great American Civil War general created a classic review of his life in a style that reminded me of an old John Ford western. Stoic, efficient, self-effacing. My image of him changed, as I knew only of his victory in war and failure in politics.

They say that managers do the thing right, wh
Clif Hostetler
Jun 29, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
Within the genre of memoirs, I've always had the impression that this book stands out as a historically significant example. Mark Twain even maintained that it should be considered equal in profoundness to Julius Caesar's Commentarii de Bello Gallico, (Commentaries on the Gallic Wars.) In the late 19th century Grant's memoir was a leading best seller.

As a child I remember seeing this tome perched on a prominent high shelf in the local rural town library and wondering to myself if anybody ever r
Dec 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoirs, history
This is often mentioned as one of the two great military memoirs, along with Caesar’s Gallic Wars, and I can see why. The two authors combine the same crystal clear description of events, the masterful strategy, the commentary on the events that put them in the field, and the perceptive evaluation of the characters of their own warriors and the leaders of the enemy. And, as in Caesar’s later Civil War commentary, they both have experience fighting men they once served with. But in Grant’s case h ...more
Jan 02, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Civil War geeks.
An interesting book that is well written but not a personal memoir in the modern sense. This is not a tell all, voyeuristic baring of the soul. Grant is a 19th Century American. I have to admit to liking the 19th Century Americans. They were down to earth blistering realistic people. He assumed that his potential readers were more interested in why he was famous. He was not famous for being famous. He was famous for prosecuting the war to a successful conclusion for the Union. What he thought ab ...more
William S.
May 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
This book is often called the finest presidential memoir. It doesn't, however, deal with the Grant presidency at all. Instead, it is his recollection of Civil War events, written in a race of time against his approaching death from throat cancer. With that focus, the book is magnificent - and a surprise. The strategic thinking about his famous battles is clear and comprehensible. Having read many books about the Civil War, I found myself shaking my head many times and noting "so that's how - and ...more
Dec 18, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: History Buffs and lovers of Biographies
One of the greatest books I have read, it holds a surprising literary quality that few biographies hold. He puts you in the battlefield, and his vivid memory added by his brilliant expression, brings you back to the 1860's. READ IT!
Jan 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Unexpectedly lucid and thoughtful, Grant manages to communicate the talent that made him the North's most successful general: logistics. He could view terrain, and see, instantly, not just how it should be assaulted, but how the attacking army must be supplied. (Yes, he also actually would attack, unlike McClellan.). Famously, the book was written to provide a legacy for the Grant family, and completed in two sections, the second under severe pain after jaw cancer surgery. But, unlike others, I ...more
Bob Mayer
Mar 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
When he became President, Ulysses S. Grant lost his army pension. After the Presidency, he went into business with his son. They became caught up in a Ponzi scheme. Grant not only lost everything, he was deeply in debt. Then he was diagnosed with terminal throat cancer-- all those cigars. He didn't want to leave his wife destitute so he agreed to Mark Twain's long standing request to write his memoirs. BTW-- in my book coming out April 12, Duty, Honor, Country, I have a scene where a young Mark ...more
Lauren Sapala
I have such mixed feelings about this book, which is why I’m giving it three stars.

On one hand, I was deeply disappointed. I have been interested in the Civil War for years, and particularly curious about Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses Grant. The title of this book—The Complete Personal Memoirs of Ulysses Grant—led me to believe that he would cover his entire life, or at least all of the important parts of it, in the telling. However, after hearing about his childhood and service in the Mexican War
Jeremy Perron
Nov 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ulysses S. Grant is one of the most famous figures in American history. He was the Union general who had successfully led the nation's troops to victory in the Civil War. Grant wrote these memories while dying and trying to provide an income for his wife. Mark Twain, who was his publisher and is not exactly unbiased, compared the work to that of Julius Caesar. Well having read and reviewed CaesarThe Conquest of Gaul (Penguin Classics)The Civil War (Oxford World's Classics), I have to say that I ...more
Herbert Lobsenz
Jan 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Grant started this two volume memoir in the fall of 1884 after he'd been diagnosed with terminal throat cancer. Earlier that year his business partner had defrauded Grant and others by turning their partnership into a Ponzi scheme. Now penniless, in order to provide for his family after he died, Grant entered into an agreement with his friend, Mark Twain, under which Grant would write and Twain would publish the memoir.

The memoir begins with Grant's service in the Mexican War, which he consider
Dec 30, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Surprisingly good read for something written a 100+ years ago. The book's main focus is his military exploits in the Mexican American and Civil Wars. I read the free e-book version from Gutenberg which rendered the maps unusable (too small), and as a result the battle descriptions were difficult to follow. If this is important to you, I'm sure you could pull the maps up on a separate computer when reading these sections.

The most interesting parts to me was Grant's perhaps unintentional revelatio
Feb 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, biography
Wonderful book! I didn't know whether to expect a boring account of lots of battles and dates, but I didn't find that to be the case. I found the first half of the book to be fascinating. It was full of interesting accounts of himself and other people. It's a great, engaging, first person narrative of important history and a great story.

It did later get to be too much battle-account for me.

What Mark Twain said of the book: "I had been comparing the memoirs with Caesar's Commentaries... I was abl
Feb 09, 2017 rated it liked it
Grant wrote his memoirs in 1885 as a means to generate income for his family after his death. In his retirement, he had run into bad luck and been swindled out of much of his savings, which prompted him to begin writing his autobiography. I enjoyed the first third of the book which covered his early childhood, his West Point experiences and the Mexican American War. This portion had a personal tone and some of the stories he told were amusing and charming. The rest of the book was spent on the C ...more
Jun 23, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Grant focuses entirely on logistics and battles. I have no interest in military history.
Feb 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-lit
Quite fine--the best presidential autobiography, including Obama's, simply because "Sam" Grant writes of the film-makers favorite subject: wars, Mexican onward.* Along his way to Mexico City (Battles of Molino del Rey and Chapultepec) under Winfield Scott, he hears his first wolves. Now, Grant was very good at numbers; he is asked how many wolves he hears. No fool, he estimates low--20? Nope. Two.
"The trouble with the Mexican army was lack of experience among the officers, which led them after
Nov 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in the US Civil War
I have read this AND listened to it as an audio book from with Jim Clevenger. As an avid student of the Civil War, it is most satisfying to hear the story from those who were actually there and in the fight. This memoir is well written and easy to follow. I would also say that Grant is fairly honest in his assessment of things with, of course, some self serving analysis occasionally. If you want to see the war from the perspective of the man who most influenced it, this is a must re ...more
Sotiris Makrygiannis
Aug 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
A good man? For sure a General, a President, a part of American history. Wanted to be a Professor, ended up to be all the above but died almost poor because they fooled him in business. He wrote the book to make money at the end of his life. He is respectful to his enemies, he explains how the USA got new territories from Mexico by provoking them to be the aggressors. Since he knew the territories of the South, he led the campaign against the USA South rebels during the civil war. He knew his op ...more
Miracle Jones
Aug 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is certainly not for everyone, and I wouldn't recommend it for the casual reader on account of the interminable descriptions of troop movements and Union army supply logistics. However, imagining him dying of throat cancer while reliving this war--trying to make meaning out of it all while still trying to do his last duty as a grim chronicler of the truth--is existentially thrilling. If I had to take away anything strategically useful from this book, it is that Grant's superpower was his se ...more
Rohit Rai
While its well written, I did not enjoy it.
It isn't written with the immediacy that makes war accounts engaging. Neither vivid nor intense, and lacking perspective.

It is distant and is a series of troop movements. X moved here against Y. Y was cut off. A victory was won. Y to took heavy losses compared to X.
Would mean little to a person outside of the military, or rather, outside of the US military of 1800's.

His accounts as a captain in Mexican War were more interesting than his accounts as a
He's a very readable writer, especially to the modern ear - the plain-spoken English is a welcome counterpoint to the Hawthorne/Henry James self-indulgent prose of the time.

It fits his leadership style too - he had a hard job to do and he did it, without making it look effortless. He needed to make a hard slog and he did.

And it's great to get a firsthand account of what hadn't yet codified into "The Civil War" (he most often called it The War of the Rebellion or The War for the Preservation of t
Mar 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
I had some concerns this would be too technical, and while it was dry when discussing troop movements or logistics, it was still remarkably readable.

I can understand why so much of troop movements and battle losses was included, however, what I liked most about the book was his opinions ant the people and the meaning of the different events that transpired.

He ends his memoir at the end of the war and does not opine on his presidency which I would have enjoyed his views as to who he had governed,
Ryan Williams
May 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Maxwell Perkins, the editor of Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald, greatly admired this book. Along with War and Peace it was one of his sacred texts. Grant was dying of throat cancer when he began and wrote the book to provide his family with a little money after he died. It seems he was genuinely unaware what his talent had in store for him. Remarkable.
Oct 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It was my good fortune to become the owner of this first edition of Grant’s Memoirs.

The two volume set came from the library of Admiral Kimmel – sadly best known to many – as the admiral in charge at the time of Pearl Harbor. He was a scapegoat for the loss of the fleet. But given the release of records since then, it is clear that he was a scapegoat for higher up folks, including the President.

I was able to purchase this set probably ten years ago and had put off reading it thinking it would
Jeff Dow
Jun 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
Simply put an outstanding and superb literary achievement. Both an insightful look at the conduct of the Civil War and a brilliant treatise on leadership - should be required reading for aspiring historians and writers alike.
Mar 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
One of the best books I have ever read. A well-deserved excellent reputation. Vivid, personal, inspiring, and still eminently relevant.
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Ulysses Simpson Grant (born Hiram Ulysses Grant) was general-in-chief of the Union Army from 1864 to 1869 during the American Civil War and the 18th President of the United States from 1869 to 1877.

The son of an Appalachian Ohio tanner, Grant entered the United States Military Academy at age 17. In 1846, three years after graduating, Grant served as a lieutenant in the Mexican–American War under W
“But my later experience has taught me two lessons: first, that things are seen plainer after the events have occurred; second, that the most confident critics are generally those who know the least about the matter criticised.” 29 likes
“The distant rear of an army engaged in battle is not the best place from which to judge correctly what is going on in front.” 9 likes
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