La Cañada resident and American history scholar Ronald C. White has been caught in a national whirlwind of public and media attention since his latest biography, “American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant,” came out in October.
The book has garnered praise from high places, including retired U.S. Army General David Petraeus, a Grant buff who asked White to accompany him in a series of talks focused on the nation’s 18th president. It’s also been popularly recognized as a New York Times nonfiction best seller and is getting pegged for a number of literary prizes, including the William Henry Seward Award for Excellence in Civil War Biography.
Recently, White was pleased to discover his 650-page tome had been selected to receive a mark of local distinction — members of La Cañada’s One City, One Book selection committee announced “American Ulysses” would be the focus of this year’s citywide reading event to take place in October.
The Glendale High class of ’57 graduate said he was notified by former classmate Elza Gross, who sits on the selection committee, that his book had been chosen for the group’s 14th annual event.
“She called me and said, ‘We’ve read all these books that are in competition, and we keep coming back to your book,’” White said during an interview Monday. “I was totally surprised.”
One City, One Book selection committee member Kathee Kenna said organizers of this year’s event wanted to get the word out early, so participants would have time to read the entire book in advance of the discussion.
“Though it is a scholarly work, it is so well-written that it is easy to read,” Kenna said in an email. “Even though there are 650 pages of text plus bibliography, footnotes and index, it is worth every minute of [people’s] reading time.”
La Cañada Flintridge Library Manager Mark Totten works with committee members each year to help find a book that fulfills the group’s intention to showcase authors from Southern California, or whose works take place in and around Los Angeles. Totten handed out copies of “American Ulysses” to La Cañada City Council members at a budget hearing meeting in late June.
“Boy, do we have a book for you,” he told council members, praising White’s work. “This is a nationally known author, and he speaks intentionally.”
White said he looked forward to speaking about Grant — the myth and the man — in his own hometown. It’s been a pleasure, he added, to see more and more audience members having read the biography in the months that have followed its Oct. 4, 2016, release date, and asking intelligent and probing questions.
“People have been so thoughtful, gracious and kind,” he said of the response to the book. “I’ve gotten back in touch with people I haven’t talked to in 40 years — there is still the power of the book, and the power of reading is still strong.”
FYI: Copies of “American Ulysses” will be made available for check-out and purchase at the La Cañada Flintridge Library, 4545 Oakwood Ave. The One City, One Book event is scheduled to take place in October, at a date yet to be determined. Check for updates online at facebook.com/LCFonecityonebook and at lacanadaonline.com.