The book "Hold On with a Bulldog Grip: A Short Study of Ulysses S. Grant" was announced as Mississippi State University’s common reading program selection for the incoming class of 2019.
This program, better known as the Maroon Edition, has been in place for the last 11 years.
With every new round of freshman and transfer students, President Mark Keenum and the Maroon Edition planning and selection committees choose a book for the incoming class to read.
This year’s pick, "Hold On with a Bulldog Grip," required an extra step before it could be distributed to students at orientation—publication.
Keenum commissioned MSU historians John Marszalek, David Nolen and Louie Gallo to write the novel specifically for undergraduate students. Former Rhode Island Supreme Court Chief Justice and MSU benefactor Frank Williams also co-authored the book.
"Hold On with a Bulldog Grip" is not the only recent publication on Grant’s life; another biography was released by these historians with enough information to stretch over 1,100 pages.
Tom Carskadon, MSU psychology professor and chair of the Maroon Edition committee, said Keenum requested a shorter summation of Grant’s life, and the three MSU historians delivered. Keenum was even able to contribute to the book himself.
"'Bulldog Grip' offers a concise but no less compelling account of Grant’s remarkable life as soldier, general, president and best-selling author,” Keenum said in a press release. "I was honored to contribute an afterword examining the long-standing connection between Grant and our institution–a story that many may not know."
"Hold On with a Bulldog Grip" reached print April 15 and is available at the MSU Barnes & Noble along with other booksellers. Freshman and transfer students are provided a free copy of the Maroon Edition book at orientation.
Nolen, one of the book’s four authors, has worked in the Mitchell Memorial Library since 2008. In 2013, he became an editor of the Ulysses S. Grant Memoirs project as well as reference librarian for the Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library at MSU.
Nolen has held an interest in the Civil War since visiting several historic sites with his family while growing up. "Hold On with a Bulldog Grip" is his second publication on Grant, and the opportunity to work in the campus Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library has helped fuel that passion.
"It was a unique opportunity for me to become involved in the work on the annotated edition of the memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant," Nolen said, "So, my work here at MSU has sparked my continued interest in Grant’s life."
Nolen met co-author John Marszalek when the Grant Association moved to MSU in 2008, and the two worked together on several library projects over the next five years, including the Grant Memoirs.
Williams, another of the authors responsible for “Hold On with a Bulldog Grip,” serves as the president of the Grant Association where he and Nolen met and connected to work on the project.
A year after Nolen began working on the Grant Memoirs, Gallo joined the Grant Presidential Library and the project. According to Nolen, the work environment became more fun after Gallo’s arrival.
"We have a great time working together," Nolen said. "We always say that we take the work seriously but don’t take ourselves too seriously."
According to Nolen, the book’s four authors wanted to make Grant appear more approachable to modern readers. After years of studying his life, the historians found many people think of Grant as a famous general or president instead of a real person with his own share of struggles and triumphs.
This book takes the same approach Grant Presidential librarians use when designing displays, inviting readers into Grant’s life as a husband and father rather than war general and president.
Carskadon has been a member of the Maroon Edition selection committee for 9 years. When he was presented the opportunity to serve as chair of the committee, he leapt at the chance.
Carskadon joined the committee to find books he could incorporate into his own class, and he also wanted to change the way Maroon Edition books are chosen.
MSU is now the only school in the country to select common reading books based on the reactions of representative samples of many first-year students who read the book. Once this approach was adopted, the committee’s selections became more affective.
Carskadon hopes "Hold On with a Bulldog Grip" will both dispel myths about Grant and instill pride in students, as it shows MSU has become a modern, inclusive university.
"He was a man of steadfast moral character and great personal sensitivity," Carskadon said. "When most people think of civil rights leaders in American history, they do not think of President Grant, but they should."
Students who enjoy "Hold On with a Bulldog Grip" are invited to come learn more about Grant’s life at MSU’s Ulysses S. Grant Presidential Library.