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Grant Paperback – April 9, 2002

4.6 out of 5 stars 228 customer reviews

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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 784 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (April 9, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684849275
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684849270
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.4 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (228 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #68,701 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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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By Driver9 on March 1, 2005
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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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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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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