Friday, June 24, 2005

Grant on Audiobook

Over the past year, I've mentioned several books from The American Presidents, a series of books under the general editorship of historian Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. and published by Henry Holt and Company.

The books in this series are short overviews--usually about 150-pages or so in length--of the lives and presidencies of each of our chief executives.

One of the things I love about these books is that Schlesinger has selected interesting authors, often persons you wouldn't expect. Nixon counsel John Dean, a native of Marion, Ohio, has written the book about another Marion native, the scandal-tinged Warren Harding. Robert Remini, known for his biographies of Andrew Jackson, has written the work on John Quincy Adams, who hated Jackson. Garry Wills, an eminent historian noted for his works on Washington and Lincoln, has written the book on James Madison. Journalist John Siegenthaler, who spent time working on civil rights issues in the Kennedy White House, has written about James K. Polk. Novelist E.L. Doctorow is penning the volume on Abraham Lincoln. Roy Jenkins, British pol and historian, who has written massive tomes on Winston Churchill, wrote the entry on Franklin Roosevelt.

The other day, my son and I were having a tire on his car patched and killed some time at the local library. I saw one of the books in this series, been abridged and put on three-CDs. It's Ulysses S. Grant by Joseph Bunting III. This is especially interesting to us here because Grant was from Clermont County, Ohio. The audiobook was read by Richard Rohan, who does a good job.

Grant emerges as a straightforward person who struggled most of his life. Historical circumstances--the Civil War--brought his talents to the fore as commanding general of the US Army at that conflict's end. When elected to the presidency a scant three years after he accepted Lee's surrender at Appomatox, Grant was ill-prepared for being chief executive. Like Reagan, Grant believed in delegating responsibility, to a fault. Like Truman, he was too loyal to friends or perceived friends, to the peril of his presidency. At least, this is how Bunting sees his subject. Nonetheless, he was, it seems, deeply principled personally. Perhaps his greatest achievement was making the best of Reconstruction, in spite of a nation wearied of the whole business.

Bunting is another interesting choice for this series. A former Army officer, he was once superintendent at the Virginia Military Institute. He's written several books on military history and education.

I'm becoming more of a fan of audiobooks. (I've now begun listening to a thirteen-disc rendition of Lord of the Rings.)

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