Grant and Twain: The Story of an American Friendshipby Mark Perry
In the spring of 1884 Ulysses S. Grant heeded the advice of Mark Twain and finally agreed to write his memoirs. Little did Grant or Twain realize that this seemingly straightforward decision would profoundly alter not only both their lives but the course of American literature. Over the next fifteen months, as the two men became close friends and intimate
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By the end of ‘Grant and Twain’, most readers will be almost misty eyed from the story of the last months of the life of Ulysses S. Grant. The narrative leading up to this sad event paint a picture of a compassionate, honest and straight-forward man, with enough details of the suffering his went through so that at the end, one feels as though a good friend has recently died. But author Mark Perry makes clear that Grant was not perfect; he had no eye for finances and was almost naïve in his dealings with people off the battlefield. It was largely through the prodding and intervention of Mark Twain that the General was able to secure a contract that not only guaranteed publication of his memoirs, but provided financial resources to pay off his many debts and assure that his family would be provided for after his passing. The historical narrative of the history of these two famous Americans is fascinating stuff. But perhaps the most inspiring part of the book is the story of how Grant completed his memoirs while slowly dying of untreatable throat cancer. He could hardly swallow, had trouble breathing and would be racked by spasms of painful coughing that left him exhausted. His doctors expected him to die on at least one occasion but he recovered and carried on with his memoirs. And all the while he showed respect, concern and consideration for those around him. An example of his sensitivity to his family was tolerating, for the sake of his wife, the presence of an obnoxious but popular preacher, explaining to his children “I do not care how much praying goes on if it makes your mother feel better.” Mark Twain was less tolerant and more scathing in his assessment of this individual than was Grant. Readers can also be assured that the many stories about and the abundant quotations from Twain are both relevant and characteristically Twain. That is, they are insightful, biting and frequently humorous. Twain’s role in this narrative is one of a supporter of U.S. Grant, with his support being about 80 percent altruistic. He also had a monetary interest in the memoirs through publication rights on which he took a huge financial gamble. At least part of his support, too, came through their common abhorrence of slavery, something Twain apparently did not come to fully to appreciate until well into adulthood but which became an important motivation for him to complete the second half of his American classic, ‘Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’, written at the same time Grant was struggling through his memoirs. ‘Grant and Twain’ is not only a historical narrative of two great Americans, it’s also a great read. I strongly recommend it to anybody interested in American history, in American literature, or in learning what it takes to persevere under truly horrific circumstances (Grant’s cancer).