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One hundred and thirty-three years after its 1885 publication by Mark Twain, Elizabeth Samet has annotated this lavish edition of Grant’s landmark memoir, and expands the Civil War backdrop against which this monumental American life is typically read. No previous edition combines such a sweep of historical and cultural contexts with the literary authority that Samet, an E One hundred and thirty-three years after its 1885 publication by Mark Twain, Elizabeth Samet has annotated this lavish edition of Grant’s landmark memoir, and expands the Civil War backdrop against which this monumental American life is typically read. No previous edition combines such a sweep of historical and cultural contexts with the literary authority that Samet, an English professor obsessed with Grant for decades, brings to the table. Whether exploring novels Grant read at West Point or presenting majestic images culled from archives, Samet curates a richly annotated, highly collectible edition that will fascinate Civil War buffs. The edition also breaks new ground in its attack on the “Lost Cause” revisionism that still distorts our national conversation about the legacy of the Civil War. Never has Grant’s transformation from tanner’s son to military leader been more insightfully and passionately explained than in this timely edition, appearing on the 150th anniversary of Grant’s 1868 presidential election.


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One hundred and thirty-three years after its 1885 publication by Mark Twain, Elizabeth Samet has annotated this lavish edition of Grant’s landmark memoir, and expands the Civil War backdrop against which this monumental American life is typically read. No previous edition combines such a sweep of historical and cultural contexts with the literary authority that Samet, an E One hundred and thirty-three years after its 1885 publication by Mark Twain, Elizabeth Samet has annotated this lavish edition of Grant’s landmark memoir, and expands the Civil War backdrop against which this monumental American life is typically read. No previous edition combines such a sweep of historical and cultural contexts with the literary authority that Samet, an English professor obsessed with Grant for decades, brings to the table. Whether exploring novels Grant read at West Point or presenting majestic images culled from archives, Samet curates a richly annotated, highly collectible edition that will fascinate Civil War buffs. The edition also breaks new ground in its attack on the “Lost Cause” revisionism that still distorts our national conversation about the legacy of the Civil War. Never has Grant’s transformation from tanner’s son to military leader been more insightfully and passionately explained than in this timely edition, appearing on the 150th anniversary of Grant’s 1868 presidential election.

30 review for The Annotated Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant

  1. 4 out of 5

    Dimitri

    Withdrawal from the Union would've been uncontestable between the original 13 states. While Grant can sympathize with the commitment of the brave butternut rank & file to the Southern cause, he cannot with the administration above them which turned the South into 'one vast military camp. The annotations are rich beyond measure. Every newly introduced character gets a thrifty biography. If you know your MacPherson, these will tend to be familiar. Yet the crossovers to Chinese Poetry, lengthy quota Withdrawal from the Union would've been uncontestable between the original 13 states. While Grant can sympathize with the commitment of the brave butternut rank & file to the Southern cause, he cannot with the administration above them which turned the South into 'one vast military camp. The annotations are rich beyond measure. Every newly introduced character gets a thrifty biography. If you know your MacPherson, these will tend to be familiar. Yet the crossovers to Chinese Poetry, lengthy quotations of Shakespeare & even Cortés on Mexico are the prerogative of Mrs. Samet, whose love of literature commendably surpasses the English sphere. She makes sure to use editions avaliable in the 1880s where possible to preserve the immersion. A secondary salutary effect of such copious footnotes is to reinforce the modernity of Grant's unadorned prose. The eye tends to cross the line from the black to the blue lettering and back without notice, in spite of 150 years' worth of academic standards between them. Not many a military historian can better Grant's campaign chronicles, even from the Lieutenant level. Thank God he was NOT at Gettysburg, because even seen from the sterile position of the Commander, he wets your appetite to learn more about the battles in the West that never got the same amount of attention from the newspapers in the East, on which the mass popularity of ACW battles remains built.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Roger Burk

    Nothing can match Grant's memoirs for straightforward clarity and directness. We wastes no time lamenting his errors, even at Shiloh and Cold Harbor, but he also lets his Union-saving accomplishments speak for themselves. He readily gives praise when it is merited, and obliquely gives criticism likewise. He enlivens the narrative with personal anecdotes, such as when he was scouting alone (to avoid attention) at Chattanooga and came across a lone soldier filling his canteen at a stream. On askin Nothing can match Grant's memoirs for straightforward clarity and directness. We wastes no time lamenting his errors, even at Shiloh and Cold Harbor, but he also lets his Union-saving accomplishments speak for themselves. He readily gives praise when it is merited, and obliquely gives criticism likewise. He enlivens the narrative with personal anecdotes, such as when he was scouting alone (to avoid attention) at Chattanooga and came across a lone soldier filling his canteen at a stream. On asking the soldier's unit, he discovered that he was a Confederate. The two had a pleasant chat and then went their separate ways. I wish the memoir could have continued through Grant's presidency, but Grant was dying of throat cancer as he finished it, alas. This edition is annotated by a professor of English at the U.S. Military Academy, not by an historian. The pictures are more eclectic that the usual portraits, maps, and landscapes, though some of those are included too. The notes are equally diverse, covering such things as parallels in Shakespeare and the role of bicycles in war. Despite their charm, I found myself ignoring them as a distraction from Grant's admirable prose. An Afterword (nominally about Grant's tomb) rightly laments that slavery was replaced by another system of oppression, and that racial equality was not really pursued even in the North. It also grouses about the "stainless banner" revisionism that took hold in the South, which is perhaps worth no more than a condescending smile. It could have emphasized the reconciliation between North and South after the War, and the acceptance of the South back into the Union on terms of equality after they accepted the results of the War. This kind of healing is by no means common after bloody civil wars, and Grant contributed greatly to it. Three Confederate generals were among his pallbearers.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Al

    Having seen the recent TV special on Grant, I was motivated to read his memoirs and decided to try the annotated version. Very smart choice! While the annotations make it a very long book (clocking in at 935 full pages), they are beautifully done and add immeasurably to what would otherwise have been a drier read. Not that the memoirs themselves aren't interesting; they are, but a good deal of the text is devoted to troop movements and the like. Ms. Samet's inclusions of anecdotes, bio data on Having seen the recent TV special on Grant, I was motivated to read his memoirs and decided to try the annotated version. Very smart choice! While the annotations make it a very long book (clocking in at 935 full pages), they are beautifully done and add immeasurably to what would otherwise have been a drier read. Not that the memoirs themselves aren't interesting; they are, but a good deal of the text is devoted to troop movements and the like. Ms. Samet's inclusions of anecdotes, bio data on generals and others, excerpts from other texts to illustrate and amplify Grant's points--all these and more--greatly enhance the story. There are also numerous photographs, and some maps (maybe could have used a few more of those, but that's a quibble). If you're going to read Grant's memoirs, this is an elegant way to do it--and being able to do it with benefit of Covid isolation time is very helpful.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    A very good book. Big fan of Grant

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jerry

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I'm a history buff and have always been interested in the Civil War. I have a profound new appreciation for Grant, and a much better understanding of the dynamics, players, history, and overall story. I love that it is annotated to provide context and additional information. It's probably the longest book I've read; I would usually read a chapter each night, and it took me about 5 months. I do recommend it for any fan of the era and such an important part of American (and world) history, but obv I'm a history buff and have always been interested in the Civil War. I have a profound new appreciation for Grant, and a much better understanding of the dynamics, players, history, and overall story. I love that it is annotated to provide context and additional information. It's probably the longest book I've read; I would usually read a chapter each night, and it took me about 5 months. I do recommend it for any fan of the era and such an important part of American (and world) history, but obviously Civil War buffs will have the greatest appreciation of the huge cast of characters involved. An understanding of geography is helpful, which I have. Yet I still found myself referring to maps with some frequency. However, many places are referred to by older names, which can be a bit hard to follow.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Todd

    An amazing work. Samet's notes are excellent, providing historical context, biographical information about those Grant mentions, alternate views of similar events, and historical comparisons to Grant's discussions. Really fantastic. An amazing work. Samet's notes are excellent, providing historical context, biographical information about those Grant mentions, alternate views of similar events, and historical comparisons to Grant's discussions. Really fantastic.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Rhett Allee

    A great read that is relevant in today's hyper-partisan climate. In Ulysses S Grant's memoirs you do not get a sugar coated description of events. He gives respect where he felt it was deserved and the same with scorn. His thoughts should be regarded with respect today as he was not afraid to point out where politicians were in the wrong for issues like Slavery, (He had no respect for these politicians as far back as the annexation of Texas where it was being pushed merely to come into the union A great read that is relevant in today's hyper-partisan climate. In Ulysses S Grant's memoirs you do not get a sugar coated description of events. He gives respect where he felt it was deserved and the same with scorn. His thoughts should be regarded with respect today as he was not afraid to point out where politicians were in the wrong for issues like Slavery, (He had no respect for these politicians as far back as the annexation of Texas where it was being pushed merely to come into the union as a slave state) but gives respect to the fighting men who were pulled in to fight for a losing cause.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Matt Robertson

    Mark Twain put a bug in my ear when I read the first volume of his autobiography a couple years ago: "I tried very hard to get General Grant to write his personal memoirs for publication but he would not listen to the suggestion. His inborn diffidence made him shrink from voluntarily coming forward before the public and placing himself under criticism as an author. He had no confidence in his ability to write well, whereas I and everybody else in the world excepting himself are aware that he poss Mark Twain put a bug in my ear when I read the first volume of his autobiography a couple years ago: "I tried very hard to get General Grant to write his personal memoirs for publication but he would not listen to the suggestion. His inborn diffidence made him shrink from voluntarily coming forward before the public and placing himself under criticism as an author. He had no confidence in his ability to write well, whereas I and everybody else in the world excepting himself are aware that he possesses an admirable literary gift and style." Granting Twain some usual leeway for telling the story "his way," it is difficult to disagree with his assessment of Grant as a writer. Through two volumes, 70 chapters, and nearly 1000 pages, Grant takes the reader from his boyhood to the war in Mexico, to leaving the army for civilian life, to his meteoric rise after rejoining for the preservation of the Union. His literary style is simple but never boring; each chapter is logically constructed, relating events as he observed them along with his intentions and considerations at the time. Along the way he remarks on the various generals he served under or commanded, or fought against, offering what seem to be fair assessments of their strengths and weaknesses. His memories of Lincoln, including several anecdotes relating the President's folksy charm and their budding friendship, further add interest. Having driven victories at some of the War's most famous battles, including Shiloh, Vicksburg, Chattanooga, the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Petersburg/Richmond, and Sherman's March to the Sea, Grant never comes across as a braggart, instead describing these actions rather objectively, and lauding those individuals who rose to the occasion. Based on his appraisals, I would be interested to read the works of CSA Generals Longstreet and Mosby. Samet's annotations just about make this two books in one. Her inclusion of various related materials, ranging from other period memoirs to ancient Greek works to Shakespeare, along with her own scholarly input, greatly enhance the memoirs, by providing context and hypercontext, connecting the War of the Rebellion, and in particular Grant's telling of it, within the grand scheme of human history, and indeed humanity. Beautiful full-color maps, illustrations, and period photographs further illuminate the work. If there's any criticism it's that Samet's annotations are sometimes intrusive, though I found I quickly adapted to the breaks in rhythm, and appreciated the color commentary, most of the time. The Civil War continues to be profoundly relevant in American history and culture. This book therefore would seem to deserve a prominent position in American literature. Twain was on to something.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Knight Of

    This was probably one of the longest books I've ever read. Grant has become quite a controversial figure in recent months. Regardless I find this book to a refreshing look at the Civil War though it doesn't fully capture the whole picture. For too long I've been taught about the so-called "grand victories of the south" and their"heroic generals" especially since I live in Florida. So it was relieving to see the Union's side of the story and their battles and victories. I got a better picture of This was probably one of the longest books I've ever read. Grant has become quite a controversial figure in recent months. Regardless I find this book to a refreshing look at the Civil War though it doesn't fully capture the whole picture. For too long I've been taught about the so-called "grand victories of the south" and their"heroic generals" especially since I live in Florida. So it was relieving to see the Union's side of the story and their battles and victories. I got a better picture of the several battle strategies of the Union and the South became a lot less glorified. I also appreciated the afterword that talked about how the South became beautified and how their vile cause which was preserving Chattel Slavery was all but forgotten when Jim Crow came. While Grant does not capture the full scope of the US civil war it is a step in seeing the war different than how the rest of the country used to see it.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jerome Lafayette

    This is a remarkable achievement. Grant's memoirs have always been a special treat due to his clean writing style and even-handed treatment of both his colleagues and competitors. But now with the copious footnotes provided by scholar Elizabeth Samet, this becomes one of a handful of essential books that should be read for an intelligent understanding of the Civil War. Samet's explanatory notes are fascinating, sometimes quirky, endlessly entertaining, and never intrusive. This is a remarkable achievement. Grant's memoirs have always been a special treat due to his clean writing style and even-handed treatment of both his colleagues and competitors. But now with the copious footnotes provided by scholar Elizabeth Samet, this becomes one of a handful of essential books that should be read for an intelligent understanding of the Civil War. Samet's explanatory notes are fascinating, sometimes quirky, endlessly entertaining, and never intrusive.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Chris

    While Grant's writing style and memoirs are excellent on their own, the introduction, annotations, and additional images and maps really put this edition over the top. While Grant's writing style and memoirs are excellent on their own, the introduction, annotations, and additional images and maps really put this edition over the top.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Geoff Walling

    Not as good as the biography. It does go into tremendous detail while omitting any reference to his drinking issues.

  13. 5 out of 5

    obok

    This book, covering Grant’s life from his childhood to the close of the Civil War, is a genuinely great read. The bulk of the book is about the Mexican American and Civil Wars. I found it weirdly addictive, reading about one brigade marching to cut off the enemy’s supply lines here, another division threatening the enemy’s flank there, and so on. I guess I’ve played enough Total War to love that shit. As the editor of this edition repeatedly reminds the reader, Grant’s style here is far more mod This book, covering Grant’s life from his childhood to the close of the Civil War, is a genuinely great read. The bulk of the book is about the Mexican American and Civil Wars. I found it weirdly addictive, reading about one brigade marching to cut off the enemy’s supply lines here, another division threatening the enemy’s flank there, and so on. I guess I’ve played enough Total War to love that shit. As the editor of this edition repeatedly reminds the reader, Grant’s style here is far more modern than that of his long-winded contemporaries. His style is much closer to Hemingway than Gilded Age gibberish. Grant describes writing his surrender terms for General Lee by saying: “When I put my pen to the paper I did not know the first word that I should make use of in writing the terms. I only knew what was in my mind, and I wished to express it clearly, so that there could be no mistaking it.” Grant obviously had the same philosophy in mind in writing his memoir. Short, declarative sentences are the order of the day, and the book is therefore extremely accessible to a reader in 2020. The first half of the book is better than the second half. The first half almost has the feel of an RPG, as Grant rises from almost complete obscurity to become General over the armies of the West. Grant is personally present for all the events described in Part I of the book, and he sprinkles in many memorable anecdotes and descriptions of what he personally observes. After his stunningly successful Vicksburg campaign, Grant was promoted to command the Union’s entire force. From then on this book becomes a bit of a slog at times, as Grant relays his commands for other officers to put into practice and describes what his commanders actually do. It’s a bit like reading a chessmaster retell his moves in his greatest ever game without being able to see the board; it’s interesting, but it’s also hard to envision precisely what is going on. Still, there were more than enough gems in the second half of the book to keep me entertained, and I certainly learned a lot about the Civil War. The footnotes in this edition are a mixed bag. Many of the footnotes provide invaluable historical context. Other footnotes are completely anachronistic, describing events from a completely different time period that the editor feels are similar to the ones described by Grant. Many of the anachronistic footnotes are entertaining or illuminating; many of the footnotes I skipped, finding them a distraction and a waste of time. I also wish this edition had more maps to illustrate the military dispositions that Grant describes. I walk away from this book with a profound respect for “Uncle Sam” Grant. Grant exemplified the soldierly virtues of courage, honesty, directness and calculated risk-taking. His decisiveness was instrumental in ending the monstrosity of slavery and bringing the most bloody and destructive American war to a close. He deserves to be honored for the pivotal and positive role he played.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Honza Prchal

    I learned a lot, A LOT from this book. The author is a perennial favourite of military historians for good reasons n and is pithily insightful snd remarkably generous in a genre replete with back-biting self-serving accounts. In fact, he’s so not rococo in his sparse, unsentimental style that Grant will strike many modern readers as (1950s detective) Mike Hammer on the page. This is especially so when he discusses his life prior to his military service in the Mexican-American War. Also disappointin I learned a lot, A LOT from this book. The author is a perennial favourite of military historians for good reasons n and is pithily insightful snd remarkably generous in a genre replete with back-biting self-serving accounts. In fact, he’s so not rococo in his sparse, unsentimental style that Grant will strike many modern readers as (1950s detective) Mike Hammer on the page. This is especially so when he discusses his life prior to his military service in the Mexican-American War. Also disappointingly lacking are his counter-insurgency and political work. After all, the recent hero of the Kennedy family, Andrew Johnson, refused to attend Grant’s inauguration (as has the infamously prickly Presidents Adams before him and Like Trump in 2021), and Grant doesn’t seem to have been terribly upset by it all. The editor lends a lot of insight, but soft-pedals the partisan politics (she’s a hard-headed lefty snd a writer for The New Republic) and misses the religious aspects of the account even though she cites an author who grasped that thoroughly in a lengthy footnote. But for moderns educated out of an awareness of the classics and/or warfare, she adds significant value snd insight that the reasonably well-educated of prior generations would generally come to the book at least vaguely aware of. She is also blessedly uninterested in glossing over thee we nature of foraging upon the civilian population, though curiously she ignores the fates of loyalists in the South and up North. Similarly she doesn’t expand upon Grant’s contempt for reporters then, as now, eager to lionize the enemy or upon Southern censorship. Grant mentions that, but in an account this long, one could blink and miss it. Still, well crafted, well done, and well in need of a magnifying glass for the maps.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    This is a new edition of Grant’s memoir, one of the best memoirs of the Civil War and probably the best literary production by any president. It is an attractive book with new maps and illustrations, but many of the maps in the original edition have been removed, and you will almost certainly need to read this with an atlas (I used Craig Symond’s A Battlefield Atlas of the Civil War). The editor’s notes are extensive and one must sometimes read the work as if Grant’s text and the notes are two p This is a new edition of Grant’s memoir, one of the best memoirs of the Civil War and probably the best literary production by any president. It is an attractive book with new maps and illustrations, but many of the maps in the original edition have been removed, and you will almost certainly need to read this with an atlas (I used Craig Symond’s A Battlefield Atlas of the Civil War). The editor’s notes are extensive and one must sometimes read the work as if Grant’s text and the notes are two parallel books. Many of the notes are very helpful, e.g. what others had to say about Grant during the times that he covers so briefly - such as his two years in Detroit, and stories about Grant that he or others had told, but which he did not include in his memoir. In one such note, Samet tells us that Grant once described a time when he was under the command of John Frémont, [Frémont] sat in a room in full uniform, with his maps before him. When you went in, he would point out one line or another in a mysterious manner, never asking you to take a seat. You left without the least idea of what he meant or what he wanted you to do. Since the editor’s theme is examination of the memoir as a literary, not an historical work, her notes sometimes go far afield. And, while reading Grant’s memoir, I was not always that interested in seeing notes with long quotations from Catch-22, the Odyssey, or Shakespeare. On the other hand, there were instances where Grant, in his usual fashion, did not describe certain details of battle, and the editor has found other historical accounts, e.g. from the writings of ancient Rome, that correspond closely to the Civil War battle.

  16. 4 out of 5

    David Bird

    Grant’s Memoirs rank as fully five stars, and stand in little need of further comment. My four here are for the combination with Prof. Samet, whose annotations often add considerable interest to the main text. The annotations are in three broad categories, of descending interest for me: Historical contextualization, with quotations, sometimes extensive, from other sources contemporary with Grant, presenting counterpoint to his presentation of events, with commentary of points of contention or om Grant’s Memoirs rank as fully five stars, and stand in little need of further comment. My four here are for the combination with Prof. Samet, whose annotations often add considerable interest to the main text. The annotations are in three broad categories, of descending interest for me: Historical contextualization, with quotations, sometimes extensive, from other sources contemporary with Grant, presenting counterpoint to his presentation of events, with commentary of points of contention or omission. In some cases these move toward Literary contextualization; for me, this is most interesting when it provides antecedants, including evidence of Grant’s own reading, or parallels to accounts of war contemporary with him. At its weakest, it veers into what feel like Random observations, ranging from the germane, but oddly placed—why medical treatment of wounds here, burial details there?—to truly unexpected bits slightly suggested by the text. The oddest is the mention of Muscle Shoals’ later fame for musical production. This was not my first journey through Grant’s work, but I found that Prof. Samet’s deepened the experience. The production of the book is odd, combinining expensive printing with mediocre paper. Illustrations and maps are plentiful, but often too small for legibility.

  17. 4 out of 5

    GRosen

    I read Grant's memoirs years ago and enjoyed them. I saw a review of this version and put it in my to read list and finally caught up with it. Prof. Samet's forward and afterward are worth the price of admission alone. Add to that the wonderful annotations, ranging from biographical to historical to literary, and you've got a great military history and memoir. Cannot recommend enough to those who read in these fields. BTW, Grant is a very modern writer, direct and unsentimental. I read Grant's memoirs years ago and enjoyed them. I saw a review of this version and put it in my to read list and finally caught up with it. Prof. Samet's forward and afterward are worth the price of admission alone. Add to that the wonderful annotations, ranging from biographical to historical to literary, and you've got a great military history and memoir. Cannot recommend enough to those who read in these fields. BTW, Grant is a very modern writer, direct and unsentimental.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Keeko

    I'm glad for the opportunity to add to the praise for this wonderful book. I had read and loved Grant's book, and I came upon this edition by chance. Out of curiosity, I read Ms. Samet's introduction, and after that, I was all in. I read every footnote and her afterword (and re-read Grant's second appendix in this edition). Thanks to Ms. Samet and everyone who worked on this. You should be so proud. I'm glad for the opportunity to add to the praise for this wonderful book. I had read and loved Grant's book, and I came upon this edition by chance. Out of curiosity, I read Ms. Samet's introduction, and after that, I was all in. I read every footnote and her afterword (and re-read Grant's second appendix in this edition). Thanks to Ms. Samet and everyone who worked on this. You should be so proud.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Ted

    Fascinating and engrossing - Grant’s clear and concise language reads more like modern prose than the typical memoir of his time, so much so that I found myself forgetting that I was reading a first hand account rather than a history. This annotated edition adds great depth for the modern reader not intimately familiar with the period.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Greg O'Malley

    As well as being an amazing journey with an amazing human, this edition is just a beautiful book, beautifully put together

  21. 5 out of 5

    Veronica

  22. 5 out of 5

    Spencer Kolker

  23. 4 out of 5

    Eric

  24. 5 out of 5

    John

  25. 4 out of 5

    lixin sun

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jim

  27. 5 out of 5

    Phil Neil

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jared Glenn

  29. 5 out of 5

    Meg

  30. 4 out of 5

    David Abrams

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