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U. S. Grant: American Hero, American Myth (Civil War America) Hardcover – November 15, 2009

4.4 out of 5 stars 32 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

How does national memory determine national heroes? Waugh, a UCLA history professor, probes the subject in an engaging study of the making of Ulysses S. Grant's reputation. At the time of his death in 1885, he was perceived as on a level with George Washington by former Unionists and Confederates alike. His memoirs were a bestseller. His image combined the honorable soldier and the generous victor: a heroic war leader who believed in the ideal of national reconciliation in both regional and racial contexts. Even Grant's flaws were part of his greatness, linking him to his countrymen in a distinctively American fashion. That image began to change as lost cause romanticism nurtured reinterpreting the Civil War as not merely tragic but arguably unnecessary. The eclipse of this approach has restored Grant's reputation as a general. Now his presidency is the target of criticism: corrupt, ineffective and above all incomplete in terms of the racial issue. Waugh convincingly interprets Grant as symboliz[ing] both the hopes and the lost dreams of the Civil War. But while that war remains our defining—and dividing—event, Grant's image, Waugh says, will remain ambiguous. 69 illus., 3 maps. (Nov. 15)
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Brilliant and unsettling. . . . Part biography, part military history, part social chronicle charting the rise and fall of Grant's reputation, U.S. Grant is a sobering reminder of the vicissitudes of fame. . . . Waugh's well-researched and vibrantly written book . . . restores luster to a lost American hero.--The Chicago Tribune

A well-written and thoroughly researched examination of Ulysses S. Grant's place in public memory. . . . Waugh's enthusiasm for her subject is evident, resulting in an informative and richly detailed study. . . . An invaluable addition to the studies of our eighteenth president.--Southwestern Historical Quarterly

An engaging study of the making of Ulysses S. Grant's reputation. . . . Waugh convincingly interprets Grant as 'symboliz[ing] both the hopes and the lost dreams' of the Civil War.--Publishers Weekly

Throughout, Waugh's narrative is a sensitive and humane account that reveals the strength of combining biography and history, where the depth available in the former compellingly illuminates the larger trends and issues that define the latter.--Civil War Book Review

A fine book. General readers will find it engaging and enjoyable, and historians interested in the memory of the Civil War will find it essential.--The North Carolina Historical Review

As impressively distilled a brief for Grant as one is likely to find.--The Journal of American History

Elegant and wonderfully illustrated book. . . .Waugh's immersion in the literature of Civil War memory is considerable; she does not reinvent this historiography but rather pushes it into new territory with her subject. . . .Waugh's contribution is significant. She has fused the discussion of historical memory to biography and military history." --The Journal of Southern History

Exceptionally thoughtful and valuable. . . . [Written in] clear prose that is readily accessible to the serious general reader. . . . [A] fine study.--Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post

The best kind of history: it is a search for truth, and one that deserves the widest possible readership.--Army History

Brings to vivid life a highly contentious political landscape. . . . A readable, worthwhile book which will be interesting to anyone with a desire to learn more about the process of historical memory--and about a forgotten man who deserves to be remembered.--The Journal of Military History

[A] vigorous and highly readable study--The Washington Times

The publication of this book is a major event in Civil War historiography. . . . Masterfully intertwines historical fact about Grant's life with the development of his reputation. . . . A wonderful book.--The Journal of Mississippi History

Engrossing. . . . Grant's full vindication . . . still awaits. But when it comes, we will better understand our complicated history, and historians and citizens will have Joan Waugh to thank for helping to make this belated illumination possible." Sean Wilentz, The New Republic on-line review

Joan Waugh adds fresh perspective on Grant and fills an important void in the scholarship….Waugh has produced a first-rate work that will go alongside other important books on Civil War memory…--Southern Historian

It is rare for readers to wish books to be longer, but this, to its great credit, is one such book.--Louisiana History

An outstanding book. Reminds us that 'cultural wars' are not a recent phenomenon. . . . By insightfully analyzing the myths, emotions, facts, and politics of the public memory of Grant, Waugh demonstrates the critical importance of defining the past.--H-Civil War

In an insightful blend of biography and cultural history, Joan Waugh's U.S. Grant traces Grant's shifting national and international reputation, illuminating the role of memory in our understanding of American history.--McCormick Messenger

An impressive book that will engage both the general reader intrigued by the American Civil War, as well as scholars interested in questions of memory and commemoration.--Journal of Illinois History

A well researched and scholarly work that Civil War enthusiasts will enjoy.--Library Journal

Waugh finds an interesting range of answers to a simple question: Who was Grant?"-The Associated Press

An excellent, tightly concise but full-life biography of Grant. . . . This is not . . . traditional history, or revisionist history, but rather an exquisite act of recounting and balancing those and other perspectives while drawing them all toward a greater understanding.--The Weekly Standard

Excellent. . . . [Has] much of value to offer. . . . As those interested in U.S. history, American studies, cultural studies, and the study of historical memory will quickly discover, in this book [Waugh] has done both Grant and us a great and precious service.--Civil War History

Waugh's love for her subject is palpable. Her story of Grant's last years of life, where he raced to complete his Memoirs before dying, is visceral.--RALPH

An impressive study using the techniques of history and memory. . . . Deserves to be at the top of anyone's list, scholar or general reader, interested in the Grant story. . . . Highly recommended.--Choice

This is a book that should be in any serious Civil War enthusiast's collection. Ms. Waugh writes in flowing prose that makes the pages fly by. There is plenty to learn for the casual reader and more than enough material to satisfy serious scholars of Ulysses S. Grant.--This Mighty Scourge

The definitive work detailing the eighteenth president's rise and fall in the American narrative.--The Review of Politics


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Product Details

  • Series: Civil War America
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press (November 15, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807833177
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807833179
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #762,322 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robin Friedman HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 21, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Joan Waugh's thoughtful new book "U.S. Grant: American Hero, American Myth" (2009) uses this now-famous question to explore the changing nature over time of American attitudes towards Ulysses S. Grant (1822 --1885). (The answer "U.S. Grant" to the question, in fact is only half correct. Grant's wife, Julia, is buried with him.) Waugh is Professor of History at the University of California at Los Angeles and the author of several earlier books on the American Civil War.

The outlines of Grant's life remain fairly well known. Grant, of course, was the leading Union commander in the Civil War and the 18th president of the United States. Born in Ohio in humble circumstances, Grant reluctantly entered West Point at the insistence of his father. He served with distinction in the Mexican War but grew bored with the humdrum nature of Army life in peacetime. He resigned his commission in 1854, likely as a result of his problems with alcohol. He then had an undistinguished career in various civilian occupations until the outbreak of the Civil War. Grant volunteered his services at the outset and rose from an obscure commander in the Western theatre to win critical victories at Fort Donelson and Shiloh. In 1863, Grant captured the seemingly impregnable fortress of Vicksburg, dividing the Confederacy in two. Later that year, he won an impressive victory at Chattanooga. Grant became the first Lieutenant General since George Washington and ultimately defeated Robert E. Lee in a series of bruising battles in Virginia. But as a soldier, Grant may be best remembered for the generous peace terms he gave to Lee at Appomattox Court House in 1865.

Grant's two terms as president (1869 -- 1876) are generally regarded as less than distinguished.
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While this book covers how such a popular general and President lost his popularity through the years of time I fear that many people know neither that he was a General nor even the President of the United States. This book is not so much a study of his life, his military career or his presidency, it does cover his great accomplishments and how they have been lost to the revision of history. A scholar of the American Civil War or of U.S. Grant I am not, but have read many books on both subjects & I'd recommend this book to anyone. I do admit it concerns me that I'm the first to write a review on this book almost a month after it's publication almost as much as I can find it no where in my large chain local bookstore where vampire love stories and books about what cats think about all day abound.
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I am really afraid that most Americans especially young Americans maybe hard pressed to tell you anything about Grant including being President. Here is a well done, wonderfully written work about the man to fill that gap. The author Joan Waugh is a college professor and widely held Civil War authority but don't run away she has written the book that flows easily like a novel as opposed to a history book. Professor Waugh gives us insight into a man that was so popular in the United States and now sits barely known. Try this book. I am glad to be reading nonfiction again and this was a great choice. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
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Here is a nice re-telling of the life and afterlife of U.S. Grant, with a special emphasis on his uncertain and changing place in the historical memory of Americans. To me there is no doubt that he deserves to have a continuing and honored place in our nation's vibrant history.

I think the book's author, Professor Joan Waugh, gets it right most of the time, especially on the fact that General Grant fought to both save the Union and end slavery. Influential "Lost Cause" historians favor the South's Lee, when we (and they) should be giving thanks it was Grant that won, given his side's cause was the morally and politically just one.

I do question why Professor Waugh skips over the still current importance of the Grant monument designed by Shrady located near the base of the U.S. Capitol. It joins with the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument as one of the three highly significant memorials to individuals on the nation's Mall and, I think, is one of the finest outdoor historical statues in America. While Grant's Tomb in New York City should be, and is, a focal point of this book, it was a mistake by the author to almost ignore the story of Washington, D.C.'s homage to this great man.

Also, readers interested in President Grant's trip around the world after his term of office ended should consider obtaining the very nicely edited version by Michael Fellman (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002) of John Russell Young's original tale.
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There was write-up of Ms. Waugh's book in the Army Magazine and I bought it based on that recommendation. She writes well. It is well organized and the text is clear and easy to follow. I have also bought some of her Civil War papers on the "lost cause." I recommend her.
I guess I was looking for some new revelation on US Grant that I did not know but found no new information in her book.I am now 65 and have spent many year reading and studying the Civil War. My great grandfather and one of his brothers were privates in the 3rd Iowa Cavalry, another brother was in the 4th Iowa Cavalry, two great uncles on the other side were with the 3rd Wisconsin Light Artillery. An old collector gave me a copy of the 1st Edition of Grant's Memoirs to study when I wrote a term paper on Vicksburg as a college sophmore.
It has always been a mystery to me why Grant seems to be so poorly thought of when he accomplished so much both as a General and as a President in a very difficult time. I doubt any of the Presidents I have known could have done as well. He is truly the type of man that one could use as a model or example.
He had one short-coming and that is that he did not like and was not proficient at public speaking. I have wondered if this limitation is why he is not more favorable remembered-there are no famous speechs to quote.
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