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Grant [Kindle Edition]

Jean Edward Smith
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (194 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Ulysses S. Grant was the first four-star general in the history of the United States Army and the only president between Andrew Jackson and Woodrow Wilson to serve eight consecutive years in the White House. As general in chief, Grant revolutionized modern warfare. Rather than capture enemy territory or march on Southern cities, he concentrated on engaging and defeating the Confederate armies in the field, and he pursued that strategy relentlessly. As president, he brought stability to the country after years of war and upheaval. He tried to carry out the policies of Abraham Lincoln, the man he admired above all others, and to a considerable degree he succeeded. Yet today, Grant is remembered as a brilliant general but a failed president.
In this comprehensive biography, Jean Edward Smith reconciles these conflicting assessments of Grant's life. He argues convincingly that Grant is greatly underrated as a president. Following the turmoil of Andrew Johnson's administration, Grant guided the nation through the post- Civil War era, overseeing Reconstruction of the South and enforcing the freedoms of new African-American citizens. His presidential accomplishments were as considerable as his military victories, says Smith, for the same strength of character that made him successful on the battlefield also characterized his years in the White House.
Grant was the most unlikely of military heroes: a great soldier who disliked the army and longed for a civilian career. After graduating from West Point, he served with distinction in the Mexican War. Following the war he grew stale on frontier garrison postings, despaired for his absent wife and children, and began drinking heavily. He resigned from the army in 1854, failed at farming and other business endeavors, and was working as a clerk in the family leathergoods store when the Civil War began. Denied a place in the regular army, he was commissioned a colonel of volunteers and, as victory followed victory, moved steadily up the Union chain of command. Lincoln saw in Grant the general he had been looking for, and in the spring of 1864 the president brought him east to take command of all the Union armies.
Smith dispels the myth that Grant was a brutal general who willingly sacrificed his soldiers, pointing out that Grant's casualty ratio was consistently lower than Lee's. At the end of the war, Grant's generous terms to the Confederates at Appomattox foreshadowed his generosity to the South as president. But, as Smith notes, Grant also had his weaknesses. He was too trusting of his friends, some of whom schemed to profit through their association with him. Though Grant himself always acted honorably, his presidential administration was rocked by scandals.
"He was the steadfast center about and on which everything else turned," Philip Sheridan wrote, and others who served under Grant felt the same way. It was this aura of stability and integrity that allowed Grant as president to override a growing sectionalism and to navigate such national crises as the Panic of 1873 and the disputed Hayes-Tilden election of 1876.
At the end of his life, dying of cancer, Grant composed his memoirs, which are still regarded by historians as perhaps the finest military memoirs ever written. They sold phenomenally well, and Grant the failed businessman left his widow a fortune in royalties from sales of the book. His funeral procession through the streets of Manhattan closed the city, and behind his pallbearers, who included both Confederate and Union generals, marched thousands of veterans from both sides of the war.


Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Hiram Ulysses Grant--mistakenly enrolled in the United States Military Academy as Ulysses Simpson Grant, and so known ever since--was a failure in many of the things to which he turned his hand. An indifferent, somewhat undisciplined cadet who showed talent for mathematics and painting, he served with unexpected distinction in the U.S. war against Mexico, then repeatedly went broke as a real-estate speculator, freighter, and farmer. His reputation was restored in the Civil War, in which he fulfilled a homespun philosophy of battle: "Find out where your enemy is. Get at him as soon as you can. Strike him as hard as you can and as often as you can, and keep moving on." Given to dark moods and the solace of the bottle (although far less so than his political foes made him out to be), Grant was ferocious in war, but chivalrous in peace, and offered generous terms to the defeated armies of Robert E. Lee. His enemies on the battlefield of politics showed him little honor, and they had a point: Grant's presidency was marked by a legion of corrupt lieutenants and hangers-on who built their fortunes on the back of a suffering people, and for whose actions Grant's reputation long has suffered.

Recent history has been kinder to Grant than were the chroniclers of his day, not only for his undoubted abilities as a military leader, but also for his conduct as a president who sought to rebuild a shattered nation. Jean Edward Smith, the author of fine biographies of John Marshall and Lucius D. Clay, offers compelling reasons to accept this program of revision, while acknowledging the shortcomings of Grant's administration. Surely and thoughtfully written, this sprawling but swiftly moving book stands as a true hallmark in the literature that is devoted to Grant. --Gregory McNamee

From Publishers Weekly

Grant's reputation as a general has steadily improved in the past quarter century, and the preceding decade has seen reevaluation of a presidency previously dismissed as an eight-year disaster. Smith, until now best known for his work in 20th-century U.S. foreign policy (George Bush's War), integrates Grant's career and achievements in what is by far the best comprehensive biography to date of a man who remains in enigma. A West Pointer who disliked the army enough to resign from it in 1854, Grant failed unobtrusively at every civilian enterprise he attempted. His return to arms in 1861 was marked by no spectacular triumph. Instead, from Shiloh through Vickburgh to Chattanooga, he established himself as the North's best general by a combination of flexibility, resilience and determination. Lee's unconditional surrender was accompanied by Grant's de facto pardon of the defeated army, and Smith persuasively interprets this as an early turning point of reconstruction, preventing Northern reprisals that might have left the nation permanently divided emotionally. Elected president in 1868, Grant above all sought reconciliation, yet made measured and effective use of the army to protect black rights in the south. Smith makes a strong case that the financial scandals that dogged Grant's second term reflected individual misfeasance rather than structural malaise-Grant was better at judging military subordinates than political advisers. His mediation of the Hayes-Tilden election in 1876 helped avert a national crisis. As a conqueror who was also a healer of war's wounds, Grant stands with no superiors and few equals, Smith forcefully argues. (Apr.) Forecast: The timing of this book is right, with Colin Powell as secretary of state and an election whose questions of black disenfranchisement and small electoral margin of victory are analogous to Hayes-Tilden. Add to that this book's comprehensiveness, rigor and readability, and it should do quite well.
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • File Size: 5388 KB
  • Print Length: 784 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (June 29, 2001)
  • Sold by: Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000FC0PCQ
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
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  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #122,556 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
98 of 105 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb March 1, 2005
By Driver9
Format:Paperback
This biography of Ulysses S. Grant is a fine book indeed and I highly recommed it for a number of reasons. First, it is an enjoyable and easy book to read. For most of the biography, Jean Edward Smith was able to forge a story that was both appealing and novel-like in its ability to engage. I was surprised by this, as I have found that one of the most difficult tasks for any writer is to describe adequately a battle scene. This is a trap where many writers succumb, but Smith was able to deftly balance giving the reader quantities of facts while at the same time keeping the reader interested. I believe "Grant" could have easily been two or three times longer, giving greater detail about any number of aspects of the Civil War, Reconstruction, or the vagaries of the Grant Administration. But it is my opinion that to do so would have been to sacrifice one of the most engaging and masterful aspects of this biography, which is the novel like quality of the work.

Second, felt that the subject matter was presented in a refreshing and exciting way, assessing Grants life and achievements with a different lens. I remember long ago reading the McFeely biography and coming away wondering how Grant could have possibly become a general, a president, or much of anything. The Grant of this earlier biography was practically a nonentity, depressed, alcoholic, bad at just about everything except killing great quantities of Confederates. Smith has painted a portrait of a much greater man. I believe this book would have won the Pulitzer Prize had it been written before McFeely's (which did win the Pulitzer). But I think two Grant Pulitzers would have been unlikely.

If anything, "Grant" may tend to gush a little too much about its subject.
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89 of 95 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Revisionist History June 18, 2001
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is the only biography of Grant I've read, so my rating is not based on any comparison of it with other books. On its own terms it succeeds quite well. Grant's entire life including his Civil War years and his presidency are linked together through the thread of his character and personality. The book offers a fascinating revisionist critique of the his presidency. Grant fought for the rights of African Americans and Native Americans at a time when the country showed little interest in them. Grant had both the courts and public opinion against him, yet his courageous efforts proved him to be far ahead of his time. After Grant left office, African Americans would be denied civil and voting rights for about 90 years. The scandals of administration were bad, but they conceal the greatness of the man and what he achieved. Historians have generally ranked Grant last or near last in rankings of presidents. But especially when you compare Grant to Johnson, for whom Grant served as General-in-Chief for the period in between the Civil War and his election as president, the ranking is ludicrous, as is obvious from Smith's book. Johnson was a disastrous president, yet the former is always ranked higher than Grant! Some of the reviews seem to have missed this point. The biography is not meant to be the comprehensive word on Grant's drinking or his family life. It is an immensely readable general biography, with an implicit argument underpinning the narrative that Grant was much better than he has been betrayed by historians. And that is what makes it a remarkable book.
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64 of 69 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The new standard for Biographies October 27, 2004
Format:Paperback
Jean Edward Smith has written, in my opinion, the best biography set within the Civil War era. Grant's life reads as a lucid novel as we travel through the peaks and valleys of his life. His life was truly amazing!

- Before the Civil War Grant actually chopped firewood in order to make enough money to help feed his family (can you ever imagine a current president actually doing such labor in order to make a living?)

- He was a master warrior who didn't like to hunt, or the sight of blood.

- He may have been the unluckiest man alive when it came to business enterproses.

Like many Americans I had been subjected to the propoganda of the Southern apologists and never realized how great Grant really was. He knew what he had to do to win, realized it would be hard, but once he set his course he finished the job.

JES inspired me to visit the battlefield at Shiloh on a warm Saturday afternoon. History was really brought to life as I looked around and envisioned all of the soldiers fighting and dying on American soil. Grant never seemed so alive.

JES also shows how Grant was underappreciated president who tried to keep Lincoln's dreams alive. While Grant was an excellent reader of men on the battlefield this skill did not follow him into politics or business. As a result, Grant's admistration was rocked by scandal - costing him dearly in the eyes of historians.

JES biography on Grant was a treasure to read. I used to wonder how Grant was able to land on the $50 bill... now I wonder why he is only on ONE bill.
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44 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ulysses Grant Shines Under New Light April 20, 2003
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Jean E. Smith's biography delivers a long overdue, refreshing and considerable recast of Ulysses Grant, especially the post-War years. While sustaining his reputation as an accomplished military leader, Smith's Grant emerges as a politician and stateman of considerable acumen and accomplishment. Rather than present Grant as a successful soldier and failed politician, Smith emphasizes the continuity in Grant's life. The common thread is an indomitable strength of character. Throughout you meet a man of quiet, resolute determination and honesty.
The early chapters focus on Grant's experience at West Point, in the Mexican War, military outposts, and in his many varied and often failed commercial ventures. Throughout these early ups and downs, what emerges is the picture of a man of absolute integrity and humility... a man unwilling to solicit position or accept patronage, unfailing in his payment of peronsal or financial debt, and unflinching in his duty.
Not unexpectedly half the book addresses Grant's military service; most of the accounts are familiar. Smith, however, goes to considerable length to discuss Grant's relationships with subordinate and opposition leaders (e.g., Simon Bolivar Buckner, Sherman, Longstreet, Thomas). The author points to the Federal movements at Vicksburg (1863) and James River (1865) as among Grant's most inspired, while bringing perspective to the momentum gained and lives lost during the campaign of 1864 (e.g., Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor). Sometimes labeled a butcher, Grant's casualty ratio was consistently less than Robert E. Lee's and, unlike preceding Eastern commanders, Grant refused to pay for the same ground twice, choosing to defeat the Confederate Army rather than focus on "geographical trophies.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Wow, I had no idea General Grant was so valuable to our Nation!
Published 8 days ago by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars Get to Know Your Grant
Nice conversational style. Had never read anything about Grant before and was most glad to have read this book. Read more
Published 10 days ago by John Hall
4.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful book. It is a fast moving story
A wonderful book. It is a fast moving story, giving detail and analysis where appropriate. The author provides a wonderful blend of personal, political, and military history. Read more
Published 16 days ago by Tom vanOosterom
5.0 out of 5 stars Good Grant bio
I love Grant. At the heart of the civil war are two great men — Lincoln and Grant; of the two Grant may be the greater enigma. Not necessarily the better man. Read more
Published 22 days ago by Russael
5.0 out of 5 stars Grant
Good read....quite a few "skim parts" about the war, etc., or any area you might not be interested in. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Carolyn B. Gatliff
5.0 out of 5 stars A new, and I think better, look at one of the great men of the 19th...
One of the better biographies of U.S. Grant I have read. It not only covers the war years in detail, but his presidency and years afterward. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Engaging tone.
Published 1 month ago by M. Burr
4.0 out of 5 stars Grant Rehabilitated
Jean Edward Smith's "Grant" is an impressive achievement in biography. Smith is a thorough researcher, thoughtful writer, and a first-class prose stylist. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Manray9
5.0 out of 5 stars MY ANCESTOR AS YET UNVISITED
I bought this book for my grandson (a Marine sniper) who left the military after three deployments. Fortunately, he decided to attend university and major in history rather than... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Joan Kelley
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
A thorough and thoughtful read. Grant you that!
Published 1 month ago by PAMELA H L WEISS
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