Rediscover: The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant

President's Day provides plenty of potential reading material. For a look at Lincoln, see Carl Sandburg's classic compendium, for more current commanders-in-chief, The Presidents Club by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy gathers living ex-executives--and there are many more options. The latest big book (literally large, at 1,100 pages) to highlight a man in the highest office is Ron Chernow's Grant, which gives a glimpse at the flawed but generally noble Union general turned president whose roughness of character is as well known as his advocacy for African-American rights. Grant hit the top spot on the New York Times bestseller list, marking another biographical bonanza for National Book Award-winner Chernow after Alexander Hamilton, Washington: A Life, and more.

An account of Grant's life is also available in his own words. The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant is a two-volume autobiography written as Grant was dying of throat cancer. By 1884, the former president had gone bankrupt thanks to financial fraud and desired something to leave his family. He made a publishing deal with his friend Mark Twain, and sometimes wrote 25 to 50 pages a day, in a race against his illness. He finished the manuscript five days before his death. Twain sold 350,000 copies by sending 10,000 canvassers across the North, many army veterans in their uniforms. Grant's widow received $450,000 (worth at least $10 million in today's dollars). In addition to financial success, The Personal Memoirs has been heralded as a concise, intelligent account of a storied military career written at a time when other Civil War memoirs were often bogged down by flowery Victorian language. In 2017, Belknap Press published an annotated version of Grant's Memoirs ($39.95, 9780674976290). --Tobias Mutter