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That Fateful Lightning: A Novel of Ulysses S. Grant Hardcover – June 6, 2000

3.9 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Ulysses S. Grant was a complex, enigmatic figure whose flaws and foibles provide a wealth of material for biographers and novelists alike, but Parry smoothes over the rough edges in this glowing fictional portrait by focusing exclusively on Grant's achievements during the Civil War. The construction is simple: as the novel opens, Grant is diagnosed with throat cancer, and the assiduously researched narrative follows the general's struggle to finish his memoirs before the disease takes his life. Encouraged by enthusiastic publisher Mark Twain (the eminent author's publishing venture later went bankrupt), Grant begins his text with detailed accounts of the pivotal battles at Shiloh and Vicksburg, illuminating the innovative decisions that led to victory. Parry nicely delineates the various generals Grant fought with and against, particularly William Tecumseh Sherman and Robert E. Lee, balancing these portraits with brief glimpses into the lives of ordinary soldiers and of Grant's long-suffering wife, Julia. Though he explores the political situations that made Grant's often-misunderstood decisions so agonizing, Parry examines the general's battles with the bottle only sparingly, most notably during a drinking binge when his colleagues cover for him and thus save his career. The narrative takes on some urgency in the closing chapters as Parry draws touching parallels between the final siege in the Wilderness that opened the door to Richmond, and Grant's race against time to finish the book before cancer brings his life to a close. The author's obvious affection for his subject gives this novel an overly sympathetic bias, but that affection also allows him to illuminate Grant's elusive human side. 5-city author tour. (June)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

From a wealthy friend's front porch near Saratoga Springs, NY, a dying U.S. Grant looks back on a life of failure as a farmer, businessman, and politician: only in war did he succeed. Parry (The Wolf's Pack) depicts his subject's inspiring race to complete his memoirs and thereby save his family from financial ruin. As Grant writes, his mind flashes back to his service during the Mexican War; his forced resignation from the army (for drinking); his lean years (1857-58) as a woodcutter in Galena; his rise to the command of the Army of the Tennessee following Fort Sumter; his tactical brilliance at Shiloh and Vicksburg; and, finally, his triumph at Appomattox Court House. Parry skims over his subject's two controversial presidential terms. Interspersed throughout the narrative are truly evocative scenes, including editor Mark Twain's incredible offer of 70 percent royalties to Grant for his memoirs and Col. John Rawlin's monumental struggle to keep Grant sober on the battlefield. Parry somewhat overstates Grant's sense of divine mission while understating his alarming tendency to battlefield overconfidence. His narrative occasionally surrenders to saccharine melodrama, especially in Grant's deathbed scene, where Lee emerges from a blinding light. Still, Parry's novel successfully captures the essence of a dying hero's struggle with the grim realities of life. Recommended for academic and larger public libraries.
-John Edwards, Univ. of Georgia Libs., Athens
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; 1st edition (June 6, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345427289
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345427281
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,953,287 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is admittedly a beautifully-written novel about Ulysses S. Grant. But there are a number of grating errors which begs the question: why didn't the author do a little more research? Had Richard Parry bothered to read even minimally about Grant, he would not have claimed he was "born and raised in Galena, Illinois." In fact Grant never laid eyes on Galena until he was in his late 30's. Grant was also not the Colonel of the "221st Illinois Regiment." Such bizarre and unnecessary gaffes seriously compromise the integrity of the novel.
Some will think this criticism is foolish, after all, who expects an historical novel to concern itself with accuracy? But Parry makes its plain that he was intent on producing a novel which was strictly based on fact and actual events.
Unfortunately he misses the mark here. If you are only a marginal follower of Grant's career this is an adequate introduction, but it would be wiser to read non-fiction, creditible treatments on his life by Bruce Catton, Brooks Simpson or John Y. Simon.
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Format: Hardcover
This is an excellent book of narrative history that brings Grant to life and puts him on your own front porch where you'd like to rock and have a conversation with him clear through to sunset.
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Format: Hardcover
All too often history is reduced to places, dates and endless names that we all recognize but have very little interest in what they accomplished. History is treated with an almost antiseptic approach that leaves a bad taste and kills any desire to explore a particular topic or person any further. "That Fateful Lightning" by Richard Parry gives a refreshing and entertaining look into the life of one of our sometimes forgotten presidents, Ulysses S Grant. It gives the reader a personal look into Grant's life, revealing his fears and frustrations. The book starts at the tail end of Grants life after his presidency. He is broke and ill from throat cancer but feels guilty that he will die and leave his wife Julia penniless with no means of support. Grant had long been swindled out of his money by unscrupulous business partners but desperately wanted to find a way to help his beloved wife before his approaching death. The famous Author, Mark Twain then offers to sell Grants memoirs and give Julia a large percentage of the royalties from the book.
I have read Grant's actual memoirs and found them to be suprisingly good. His book however is a little dry. It gives detailed troop movements, supply counts, descriptions of terrain and of course he discusses many of his battle strategies that any historian would find fascinating. The non-historian however, would find the book tedious and probably not get further than the first chapter. In contrast, Richard Parry reveals the more human side of Grant in "That fateful lightning". Grant is pictured as a dying man that is racing against time to finish his memoirs. As he is writing, he reflects on his experiences in the Civil war.
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Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed this book and will keep it, but...

As others have noted, the author puts too much exposition into character's thoughts and words. I guess he's trying to explain the Civil War for those who aren't familiar with it, but no one talks like these characters do.

There are continuity errors. On one page Sherman has lost his hat; two pages later he discovers a bullet hole in his hat. Early in the book, and in 1885, Mark Twain and Grant smoke cigars; later in the book, and in 1884, Grant smokes his last cigar. The author needed a good editor.

Mark Twain and General Sherman play big parts but they are very flat characters. More detail about their lives in the 1880's, and about Julia Grant's life after U.S. Grant's death, would have been nice. The book does include an epilogue that follows major characters with a paragraph each.

Grant's death scene is too much. Without giving it all away... an old adversary appears "out of the light" to guide Grant on his journey.

I've always been impressed by a photograph of the ailing Grant, all bundled up and sitting on his porch, working on his memoirs. He wrote a powerful book. This novel provides a glimpse into his world and his thoughts at the time, and for that, I appreciate it.
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