The Presidential Memoir

Barack_Obama_with_Superman.jpg George Bush’s new memoir is out today. There’s no telling how well it’ll sell. What politicians have the most books sold? The Daily Beast has roll call of the 20 bestselling politicians (hint: Obama’s on the list).

Of course, Bush isn’t the first president to write his memoirs. The Daily Beast also offers up a brief history.

From the piece ...

The first memoir written by a former president to combine historical merit and real commercial success is considered to be Ulysses S. Grant’s. Though Grant is viewed as one of this nation’s lesser presidents, the Princeton historian Sean Wilentz said that his tainted legacy was largely the work of Southerners in the early 20th century. In fact, Grant was a hero in his own time, the savior of the Union, and in 1880, there had even been talk of running him for a third term.

But by the early 1880s, his popularity had not saved him from being nearly broke. So, perhaps sensing an opportunity, Grant’s close friend Mark Twain started a publishing firm, with his nephew in charge, specifically to publish Grant’s memoirs. Completed days before his death in 1885, they barely touched on the presidency, focusing instead on the Civil War. “He wanted to write about it authoritatively,” Wilentz said. “There were lots of records left from the war, but he wrote a very terse and elegant account of the war that he fought, from where he stood.”

It made Twain and Grant’s widow some real money. Then, the book was forgotten. It took two unlikely people to revive it half century later: Gertrude Stein and the literary critic Edmund Wilson.
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