I watched David Gregory’s interview with General David Petraeus on Meet the Press yesterday. Gregory wrapped up the interview by asking the general what he was reading. Petraeus didn’t in fact give the titles of the books he referred to in his answer — he was, after all, there to plug U.S. Afghanistan policy rather than his own reading choices. He said he was reading a book “on the historiography of Grant,” on “how historians have changed their view of Grant” over the years. He also mentioned a book on Kipling in India.
The Daily Beast’s “Book Beast“ column reported the exchange with a piece identifying the two books, but it seems more than likely to me that the Beast got the Grant book wrong. Book Beast cites Jean Edward Smith’s biography, Grant, published almost ten years ago. But Petraeus did not say he was reading a biography of the Civil War general who became president.
The book that seems clearly to fit his definition is Joan Waugh’s U.S. Grant: American Hero, American Myth, published last November by the University of North Carolina Press. LJ reviewed the book last September, along with two others that were reassessing presidencies (click here to see). This one is indeed a “historiography” of Grant!