At their best, memoirs and biography allow one an opportunity to hold your life up to, and learn from, the lives of others.
I have always been fascinated by the civil war biography, and find Catton’s treatment of this part of U.S. Grant’s generalship both infinitely readable and as quotable as the General himself. Catton in the 1940’s and 50’s rehabilitated Grant from an undeserved reputation as a drunkard and a brute. He portrays Grant–like Lincoln, his fellow westerner and greatest protector–as someone who manuvered through the politics of the civil war (and isn’t civil war the ultimate political dustup?) via a combination of tenacity, clarity, and supreme self-knowledge. Grant was a “hard war man”, acknowledging that war was a bloody business that was only won by fighting. His battlefield directions, often written from horseback on a notepad he kept in his right front pocket, were the model of clean, understandable prose.
Speaking of which, here is Catton’s quote from a General Schofield “Grant was very far from being a modest man, as the word modest is generally understood. His just self-esteem was as far above modesty as it was above flattery … He knew his own merits as well as anybody, and he new his own imperfections. When his attention was called to a mistake he had committed he would see and admit it with a smile, which expressed the exact opposite of that feeling which most men are apt to show under like circumstances … His absolute confidence in his own judgement upon any subject which he had mastered added to his accurate estimate of his own ability.