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Here is another of the "leadership lessons from" volumes which seem to be published in an ever-increasing number. I was curious to know what Kaltman had to say about one of our nation's most successful generals who is also generally viewed as one of our least successful Presidents. The bulk of the book focuses on Grant the general but Kaltman adds a brief section in which he attempts to place Grant the President within an appropriate historical context. The material is organized within 11 chapters, ranging from "Seize Opportunities: April 1822-August 1848" to "Always Do What's Right: February-December 1865." Kaltman then provides a Conclusion ("The Quintessential Grant") and an Addendum (The aforereferened "Grant's Mismanaged Presidency"). The net result is much more than a portrait of Grant. Indeed, Kaltman has carefully examined all manner of primary sources from which he has selected what he considers to be those "leadership lessons" which are most relevant to our own time. (I wish he had included a Bibliography.) At the heart of this book is an essential paradox: the same leadership principles and strategies which enabled Grant the general to achieve great success are precisely the same which (for various reasons which Kaltman suggests) Grant rejected or failed to use while serving for two terms as President. I am among those who consider Grant's Personal Memoirs a literary masterpiece as well as one of the most valuable historical accounts of the American Civil War. Therefore I was not in any way surprised by the eloquence of Grant's remarks which Kaltman generously and skillfully includes together with appropriate comments by others best-qualified to comment on Grant, both in terms of his military leadership and qualities of personal character.
With regard to the title of this book, Kaltman shares three quotations from those who had direct association with Grant. One observer noted that Grant "smokes almost constantly" and the most famous is of remarks by President Abraham Lincoln concerning Grant's fondness for whiskey ("...if it made fighting generals like Grant I should like to get some of it for distribution"). However, the remarks which I found most revealing were made by Robert E. Lee to a professor at Washington College where Lee served as president after the Civil War: "Sir, if you ever presume to speak disrespectfully of General Grant in my presence, either you or I will sever his connection with this university." I urge those who share my high regard for Kaltman's book to read or re-read Grant's Personal Memoirs.
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on November 28, 1999
This book is an excellent summation of the lessons learned by Ulysses S. Grant in an easy-to-read format. The book is well-paced and divided, following Grant's victories and defeats in military, civilian and personal battles from his childhood through the Civil War, his presidency, and Kaltman even manages to draw cogent and sobering lessons from his death. For each chapter the author gives a short story and draws a lesson from it. Each lesson is less than two pages, giving the reader an ability to read for a few minutes at a time during a busy day without losing his or her place or train of thought. Because of the length Kaltman does not run his point into the ground like many management books. His simple explanations stand alone. Kaltman's innovative format is now being emualted by many management authors.
Don't be fooled by the easy read--this book contains serious lessons that I will ponder again and again and wish I had learned earlier in life. The oft-maligned Grant is a worthy hero, and Kaltman has extracted invaluable morals from his experiences. If the author's bias that Grant deserves a better place in history than he currently enjoys shows through in some places, it is a sentiment I share. And so will you after you read his book. I recommend this book as a gift for anyone struggling to learn the skills to survive and thrive in the battlefield of business.
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on February 22, 2000
I am regarded as good manager, have little time to read and no knowledge of the Civil War--when I received this book for Christmas I promptly put it on the shelf, and only began flipping through it two months later. Now I wish I had read it years ago. The lessons are concisely worded, and beautifully illustrated with examples from the life of a man who knew his fair share of hardships, successes and failures. It was refreshing to read a book on management written by a successful manager with useful advice for adults. Many of the management books that gather dust on my shelves are full of platitudes, cute little mice and invented quotes from fictional characters. Far more interesting to learn with the General who saved America than to speculate what a starship captain or a mouse might do at a board meeting. Grant could not rely on plot contrivances or cute beatitudes to save the Union; my respect for the author's skillful way of drawing lessons from each experience grew with each page.
As did my respect for the apparently much under-appreciated Ulysses S. Grant (whose name was not actually Ulysses and if you want to know more read the book). In fact, I was inspired enough to go looking for the memoirs of the man. It's a 22-volume set, which I look forward to reading when I retire. The advice in Kaltman's book, however, will undoubtedly help me to reach a much higher level before I do.
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VINE VOICEon February 7, 2000
I read this immediately after finishing U.S. Grant's Personal Memoirs. Mr. Kaltman's book lessons and examples are almost entirely taken from that source.
Some of the several hundred management lessons the author extracts from Grant's masterpiece provide interesting insight. Many are, however, superficial, obvious or an outright stretch. I found some that drew lessons belied by a deeper and fuller knowledge of the historic example of Grant from which the author sought to extract his "evidence."
Actually, my impression was that this book would be more useful to a young reader who had a cursory knowledge of history and was looking for a framework for decision making.
For serious managers, I suggest reading Grant's Personal Memoirs. Not only great history, but Grant's skilled and honest telling of his Civil War story is accessible and provides many direct lessons buttressed by a much deeper set of facts. In fact, I plan to keep Grant's Personal Memoirs on my "Manager's Shelf."
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In many ways, this is an outstanding book. It occasionally veers off to give bad advice for business leaders (never coopeate with the competition), or I would have given it a five star rating.
Unless you believe that the best way to learn is to make your own mistakes, you will find this book a useful guide to learning from Grant's errors, those of his opponents, superiors, and subordinates. As one CEO told me, "I don't get much out of all those books about perfect performance. I like to read about what can and does go wrong, and how to avoid it." This is that kind of book.
I normally avoid books about the leadership lessons of some famous person. I usually find such books to be too generalized from a slim factual base, incorrectly analyzed, or simply too narrow. Why not read a book about what all the best leaders do? I made an exception for this book because it came as a gift from a man I admire greatly who has been a big success both as a military and as a business leader. That was all the recommendation that I needed. I am glad that he chose to share the book with me.
If there ever was a successful leader with feet of clay, it was Ulysses S. Grant. In 1861, he was working as a clerk in his father's leather goods store in Illinois, after having failed in his first military career. In 1865, he was leading a million men under arms. Later, he became a two-term president in an administration wracked with scandal. Throughout his life, he was dogged by rumors of being an overimbiber in whiskey. Caught with a cigar in his hand in a famous photograph, admirers sent him thousands of cigars. He may have smoked more of them than he should, since he died at 63 of throat cancer.
I read Grant's Memoirs (which I also recommend to those who like this book) a number of years ago, and remember ticking off lessons in my mind as I read his comments. In many cases, miscommunications caused enormous opportunities to be missed in the Civil War on the Union side. Also, misjudging of character caused the wrong person to be put in positions of trust.
Mr. Kaltman does a good job of keeping all this in perspective, and essentially writes a commentary to go along with the historical events and Grant's review of them in that memoir. Each of the 250 in the book are two pages or less in length, and many are less than a page. So you can learn something even if you only have 2 minutes to spare. I was immediately impressed, and was soon caught up in the examples.
The book is laid out chronologically, but each period in Grant's life is focused on a primary lesson of that period. For example, Grant boldly marched up to Fort Donelson early in the war and easily took the fort. He did so knowing his opponent from prior military service, and correctly estimating that the Confederate general would quickly fold. That section is summarized as "Know Your Competition" and covers the period from November 1861- April 1862. Here are some of the other sections and key examples (space does not permit me to cover them all):
Seize Opportuntities (April 1822-August 1848) -- Grant put a cannon in a bell tower to command the enemy lines during the battle of Mexico City in the Mexican War.
Turn Mistakes into Training Opportunities (April-November 1861) -- Raw troops failed to keep sentry duty, for which they would normally have been executed. Grant told them not to do it again, or they would be.
See the Total Picture (April 6-7, 1862) After horrible losses on the first day at Shiloh, Grant realized that a counter-attack would carry the day even though the Union forces had even lost their tents and spent the night in a pouring rain. His orders then carried the day.
Don't Scatter Your Resources (April 1862-January 1863) His superior officer, General Halleck, moved slowly and spread his men out. Grant was put on the defensive as a result.
Shatter Paradigms (January-October 1863) With help from the Navy, grant took Vicksburg. He also learned to live from the local land, rather than from a fixed base of supply. This used up resources that the Confederate army would otherwise have received.
Pounce on Your Competitors' Blunders (October 1863-March 1864) This describes how Grant relieved the pinned down forces at Chattanooga when the Confederates failed to take full advantage of their position on Lookout Mountain.
Always Do What's Right (February-December 1865) Grant watched that he always acted properly with regard to both the political powers and toward the surrendering Confederates.
The Quintessential Grant is summarized in 12 points at the end. In an addendum about Grant's presidency, the author points out that Grant did not follow the same good practices as a politician that had served him well as a general. It makes you wonder if the habits were really ingrained, or inspired by the mortal risk that his men were under.
Good luck in using these lessons to "get superior performance from ordinary people."
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on December 27, 1998
Forgive me for judging a book by its cover, but I really thought this one would be a sleeping pill. Brother, was I wrong. I don't read managerial guidebooks because the usual "real-world" examples they provide bore me. This book, on the other hand, overcomes that barrier. Its far more interesting to read about Grant's decisions in battle, and the managerial lessons learned from it, than anything Donald Trump or Bill Gates has done. I highly recommend this a solid and consice biography of Grant as well as being the best management guide to ever come down the pike. After you've read it straight through once, you'll want to keep a copy of it on your desk to browse through during lunch hour. The only thing I take exception to is the title. Too much has been made about Grant's supposed drinking problems and he doesn't deserve to be remembered as a "hard drinker" or an alcoholic, which he wasn't. I would have substituted the word "whiskey" for "whittling," since Grant was seen undertaking that calming activity during the heighth of the battle of the Wilderness. It suits Grant's real personality better.
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VINE VOICEon December 9, 2012
In "Cigars, Whiskey and Winning," Al Kaltman breaks down the autobiography of Ulysses S. Grant and offers lessons on leadership. Kaltman is shrewd enough to rely on heavy passages from Grant's book which rightfully ranks as an American classic and lets Grant do most of the speaking. Kaltman does not shy from Grant's rollercoaster life, highlighting both the highs and lows though his take on Grant's presidency is rushed and could have been better. Still, there are certainly lessons to be learned from Grant's dramatic life and Kaltman does a solid job of illustrating them.
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on February 14, 2015
Grant has endured a curious legacy. Between the Southern "Lost Cause" movement and the scandals that occurred within his presidential cabinet, Grant's outstanding military career has been overlooked in the last century. But his accomplishments in the Civil War were among the greatest of any military strategist in history. Oddly, British historians and military analysts were the first and most effusive in praise of Grant's skills. More recently, both his military career and his presidency have seen more objective and more positive re-examination. Grant was one of the two or three finest generals of the nineteenth century. But he was also a superior communicator. His orders were impeccably written and his memoirs among the most fluent of all books in the English language. This book takes anecdotes and examples from Grant's life and his memoirs and interprets them in light of modern business practice. In these brief lessons, Grant emerges as a superior manager and leader for all ages. I found this both entertaining and enlightening.
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on September 14, 2015
Great read and excellent insight into leadership lessons for anyone. I am in the military and this book was recommended to me from a fellow military member; it complimented and was very good addition to the other leadership books I have read. It also is a fun read that departs from some of the more dry leadership books I have read with some interesting stories and biographical information about General Grant. I also gave this book as a gift to my brother who is not in the military and he has really enjoyed it as well. I think any student of leadership needs to have this book on their bookshelf.
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on August 17, 2014
Wholeheartedly agree with so many other reviewers as it is not like other leadership books which drone on with endless story after story (with the lessons buried somewhere among them all) all the while forgetting that one of the most precious resources managers and leaders have is time. Good grief! Cut to the chase!

Well Mr. Kaltman has none of that realizing that your time is important and you need the lesson quickly as the maxims are succinct—one sentence long—with a very short story (half to one quarter of a page) of Grant’s use of it and the outcome. And the historical aspect makes the book fun to read.

Other authors and books could learn from this style. Buy it. Read it. Chances are you will be glad you did.
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