After all the complexities and disappointments of this year, I feel the need for distraction. I decide the best way to do this is share the books that I read this year that I liked the most.
I track the book’s I’ve read on goodreads.com. I rate them 1-5 stars, and give a brief review so I can identify the book in the future. I use goodreads for three things:
- Tracking what I’ve read, so I can find titles and authors I’ve read so I don’t have to rely on my memory
- Creating a list of books I’d like to read
- Use the goodreads recommendation system to identify interesting books.
Here’s the extraordinarily unscientific process I used to select my best books – Anything I rated 5 stars is going to be a best book. It turns out that I grade pretty hard. Only 15% of the books I read were 5 star books, while another 52% were 4 star books. It seems that I save the 5 star rating for the very special books. What was most interesting was the variety of books that were 5 star books for me. They were all well written, but each had some special characteristic that grabbed my my attention, which meant they are more diverse in than my 4 star list, which tends to have a lot of history and historically themed fiction.
First book – out of a very good lot, one of the best.
A fine biography of a man who is both modest and audacious. A fascinating bio of an unusual person.
This is a very thorough bio of Grant, which covers both his personal life and his life as a war general and President. The body of the book is about 650 pages, with another 150 of notes and bibliography. We learn about a modest man, with strong convictions, a knack for personal friendships, though he sometimes appeared stiff and standoffish. We also learn about a man who grows into the roles circumstances thrust upon him, especially the Presidency.
I find many things to praise. The sections dealing with Grant’s early life give a sense of a family striving to find a home in the expanding nation of the United States, and their political and religious sensibilities. The sections dealing with the Civil War give me a vivid sense of the Western campaigns, including the actual maneuvering of the armies, as well as the political maneuvering that was occurring amongst the military figures and the politicians. The periods of Reconstruction break my heart – once he committed to voting rights and education for former slaves, Grant was disappointed by the political shenanigans that eventually gave most of the power in the South back to the white Democrats who had seceded.
The writing is good, the research is solid, and there is an excellent use of photos and maps throughout the book. The maps are particularly valuable in the war sections, as it makes clear the events occurring.
I think this will become the “standard” bio of Grant for some years to come.