Wednesday, June 17, 2009

On the road to knowledge

You’ve gotta love audio books. How else can you learn while you’re driving?

I have a 30-minute commute to and from work each day, and I’ve grown to look forward to my classroom on wheels. Recently, I listened to two Lincoln-related audio books, though to the non-Lincoln buff, they might not seem so.

Illinois general turned president

The first of the two is Grant: A Biography (Unabridged) by John Mosier from the Great Generals Series.

A fellow history buff from Galesburg, retired Judge Harry Bulkeley, bears an uncanny resemblance to the great general, portraying him in Civil War Reenactments and even in two television documentaries.

I chose the Ulysses S. Grant bio for a couple reasons. I wanted to learn more about this Illinois icon my Galesburg acquaintance brings to life, and I knew I needed to know more about the general and his service to better understand Lincoln and the Civil War.

So what did I learn?

First, I learned how little I know about the Civil War. In corporate-speak, it’s my Lincoln growth area. But, I also learned more about the general, his life and his leadership style. Mosier paints a mural of Grant’s life and military accomplishments as vivid as those panoramic walls WPA folks used to paint in post offices across the country back in the 1930s and 1940s.

Through the book, the reader learns a lot about the often misunderstood Grant – a family man, an artist, a brilliant military strategist. Mosier also teaches about the battles of the Civil War and military leadership in general not only through the Civil War, but throughout history in the U.S. and abroad.

I really wished I were listening to this not in a car, but in a room with a timeline across the wall and a map of Civil War battlefields in front of me. Because I don’t know either of these nearly as well as I should, I felt at sometimes that I were sitting in a sidewalk café in a foreign land, not understanding what was said around me. But every once in a while, I heard morsels in my native language so interesting that I couldn’t help but linger to hear more.

So, though much of the military strategy and Civil War specifics were foreign to me, I learned – tons. I have a much greater appreciation for Grant - the man, Grant - the General and Grant - the President, and I’ll listen to this again someday when I can visualize Grant standing on a battlefield and leading his men to victory. And, maybe, I’ll even read the book – that is, if I ever run out of Lincoln books. Alas, I don’t see that happening any time soon with a new one coming out each week.

The audio book has a very helpful introduction by Wesley K. Clark and is narrated by Brian Emerson, a comfortable voice to listen to any time of day.

Little stories with a moral
I also just finished listening to an unabridged edition of Aesop’s Fables, narrated by Jonathan Kent. I’m embarrassed to say that though I’ve started them numerous times, I’ve never before made it through all of these classic tales. This time, I did.

It was important to me that I understood them, as this was one book which Lincoln is supposed to have read early in life – and which is to have influenced him throughout life.

Many of the stories were familiar, of course. You just can’t go through life without being exposed to them and many of the morals are things I’ve heard over and over. I just didn’t realize they came from Aesop.

Though Kent’s voice is soothing to hear, there are some times when, in portraying a particular character, it’s more annoying than pleasant. That’s rare, though, and not a deterrent from the value of the book in general. And, for some reason, this particular copy was difficult to hear. I’m not sure if it was just a defect or what, but I had to listen at full volume. My husband just about blew us all out of the van when he popped out the CD to listen to oldies and we heard our first 60s song at the highest level on the dial!

More to come
I’ve also been turning the pages of several books (but not while I'm driving), so I’ve got more reviews to share in the coming days – this time of Lincoln books. Keep watching. I’ll try not to stay away so long this time.

© Copyright 2009 Ann Tracy Mueller. All rights reserved.


Anonymous said...

Just wanted you to know that some people do read your blog.

I'm rkraneis on Twitter.

U.S. Grant was remarkable. During his early military career he was a quartermaster in the U.S. Army. This explains how logistically, he and his Army of the Tennessee could do almost anything as they marched into southern territory. It was Grant who taught Sherman how to "live off the land" (harshly if you were from the South).

Grant was unassuming, just did his job. Never begged Lincoln for more troops, guns, horses, anything.

Grant was scruffy, didn't look like much. And he was capble of much grace. At Appomattox, Grant allowed Confederate troops to keep all their horses so they could go home and plant crops.

I think Lincoln found it easy to deal with Grant after he met him. Lincoln knew Grant was really a simple man who kept his word.

After Grant's Army of the Tennessee broke the back of the Confederacy in the West by taking Vicksburg and the Mississippi, Lincoln put Grant in charge of the Army of the Potomac.

Not even the great General Robert E. Lee could withstand the irresistible force known as U.S. Grant, the War would soon be over.

Thanks for your blog.

Geoff Elliott said...


Interesting "reading" about General Grant. Quite a man. Much like Lincoln, he achieved little before history thrust him onto the scene in the Civil War. A great general who also happened to get sick at the sight of blood. A gentle man by nature, but a tenacious military leader.

He was born in my state of Ohio, but of course spent his formative years in your state of Illinois.

Thanks for an interesting post!

Lincoln Buff 2 said...

rkraneis: Thanks for your comment. Sounds as if I could learn a lot about Grant from you. In fact, I did from your post. Thanks for tweeting Lincoln, too.

Geoff: - Gee, we could get in a tug of war over who can claim Grant - or we could share him. I vote for sharing him. I think my friend Judge Bulkeley would be disturbed if we tore his alter ego in half!

Thanks for your kind words, guys. It's nice to know someone is paying attention to what I write. Makes it all worthwhile.

Beverly Wolfe said...

I love to learn new things about Lincoln, but I don't limit myself to the great man. I'm a huge Civil War buff. You mentioned wanting to know more about the Civil War. I believe one of the greatest books, which manages to condense the war, including the oh, so important issues that led up to the war, is "Battle Cry of Freedom" by James McPherson. He won the Pulitzer Prize for this amazing work. It's not easy reading, but if you can find it on audio, you'll come away with a strong understanding that this terrible war had roots going all the back to the problems inherent with 13 independent colonies trying to agree on our country's first governing document, the "Articles of Confederation." The seeds of the Civil War go back that far. I've found the best way to learn about something in history is to go backwards, and work your way forward. But that's just me :) Love your blog, by the way. Amazing work!

Lincoln Buff 2 said...


Thank you.

I do have Battle Cry of Freedom and read part of it a few years back for a Civil War book club, I believe. I think I'd read it with much greater understanding and appreciation now.

I attended a session in which Dr. McPherson presented at Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois last fall. He's a very interesting speaker, who kindly and thoughtfully answered my Lincoln-Douglas question.

I will look for Battle Cry on audio. I appreciate the suggetion, as I do your very kind words about my blog.