Journalist and historian Perry (Lift Up Thy Voice, 2001, etc.) examines in remarkable detail the 15-month period during which two iconic American figures produced monumental American literature.
Ulysses S. Grant (1822–85) had the greater struggle. Left holding the bag in 1884 after his Wall Street partner absconded, the two-term president and the country’s greatest general was flat broke, with a cancerous growth fatally rooted at the back of his mouth. Mark Twain (1835–1910), younger by a dozen years, had evolved over the previous decade from an unabashed fan into a close friend and confidant of Grant’s. The two initially had little more in common than an upbringing in the West (Twain actually served a few weeks in a Confederate unit before abandoning the Civil War entirely), but both loved to tell stories while smoking cigars. Not privy at first to the seriousness of Grant’s illness, Twain proposed that the general write his memoirs as a favor to the nation and a way to make money for both of them; Perry avers that Twain hoped to secure the publishing rights as a largesse for the company he owned, fronted by his niece’s husband. The proud and modest Grant had no income and dismissed any attempts at financial aid, no matter how well disguised, even from fellow officers who had stayed close. He had resisted writing his memoirs, the author states, for fear that a poor reception would further embarrass his family. After winning him over, Twain took up an unfinished novel he had put down years before without a clue to an ending; now he finally got his scapegrace hero and runaway slave off the river to complete The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Intimate, spellbinding drama of the affinity between friends, each struggling in his own way to tell the country the truth about itself.