Summary

At the time of his death, Ulysses S. Grant was the most famous person in America, considered by most citizens to be equal in stature to George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Yet today his monuments are rarely visited, his military reputation is overshadowed by that of Robert E. Lee, and his presidency is permanently mired at the bottom of historical rankings.
In an insightful blend of biography and cultural history, Joan Waugh traces Grant's shifting national and international reputation, illuminating the role of memory in our understanding of American history. She captures a sense of what led 19th-century Americans to overlook Grant's obvious faults and hold him up as a critically important symbol of national reconciliation and unity. Waugh further shows that Grant's reputation and place in public memory closely parallel the rise and fall of the Northern version of the Civil War story, in which the United States was the clear, morally superior victor and Grant was the emblem of that victory. After the failure of Reconstruction, the dominant Union myths about the war gave way to a Southern version that emphasized a more sentimental remembrance of the honor and courage of both sides and ennobled the "Lost Cause". By the 1920s, Grant's reputation had plummeted. Most Americans today are unaware of how revered Grant was in his lifetime. Joan Waugh uncovers the reasons behind the rise and fall of his renown, underscoring as well the fluctuating memory of the Civil War itself.
©2009 Joan Waugh (P)2009 Audible, Inc.
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Critic reviews

"Exceptionally thoughtful and valuable. . . . [Written in] clear prose that is readily accessible to the serious general reader." [A] fine study." ( The Washington Post)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
2 out of 5 stars
By Erik on 22-01-10

Good Book, Weaker Audio

Excellent study of how and why our view of national heroes changes over time. However, audio is very disappointing. Joan Waugh's reading is rushed (almost to the point of seeming to have been deliberately faster than "normal" for audio books). In addition, often seems to overlook punctuation or otherwise place emphasis in the wrong part of a long sentence, making the narrative harder to follow. Technical side of the recording also seemed deficient, with some clear editing mistakes and sound that, while acceptable, in some ways doesn't seem up to the standard of most Audible books.

Book rating: four to five stars
Recording/reading: two stars

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11 of 11 people found this review helpful

3 out of 5 stars
By Paul on 28-02-10

Runs out of gas at the end

I learned a lot about U.S. Grant from the book. He has received a bad rap and the author turned that around for me. Her premise for the book was intriguing: Why was a man who was incredibly popular, one-two million people attended his tomb opening, in 1898, completely disreputed only forty years later and to this day, considered one of the worst Presidents in history. Waugh sort of answers the question but I was hoping that she would give a little more detail about exactly why this occurred. I don't think the contention that he got a lot of bad press from one scholar is substantial evidence. It does point our how fleeting fame can be.

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5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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