From Publishers Weekly
This little book will inevitably be compared with Josiah Bunting's similarly short biography of one of the world's greatest military figures. The marriage of author and subject works well, although Korda (Horse People: Scenes from the Riding Life
, etc.) doesn't have much new to say about Lincoln's favorite general. That's not surprising, since everyone now writes about Grant in the shadow of Edmund Wilson, who gave new fame to Grant's memoirs, and William McFeely, who has written the best full biography to date. Even so, Korda freshly characterizes his man without psychologizing an unpromising subject. Grant was, after all, unyieldingly stolid and tight-lipped. While his qualities of directness and taciturnity made him a great general, they didn't yield up a fascinating man or a great president. Korda does about as good a job of bringing Grant to life as possible and handles all the essential set pieces—Grant as Mexican War officer, Civil War general, president and author of masterful memoirs on the eve of his death—with much skill. He's less perceptive than Bunting about Grant's presidency and occasionally puts unnecessary erudition on display, but on the whole this is a highly readable, accurate study of the man. FYI: This title launches the new Eminent Lives series, edited by James Atlas.
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The second short life of Grant in weeks is nearly as commendable as Josiah Bunting's Ulysses S. Grant
[BKL S 1 04]. Bunting's contribution to the American Presidents series attends more to Grant's administration. Korda, as his book's subtitle portends, prefers Grant's military career. So doing, Korda brings up possibilities and spotlights figures that Bunting doesn't. For example, contra Bunting's implication that, after the episode leading to his post-Mexican War resignation from the army, Grant had no real drinking problem, Korda allows that accusations of drunkenness during the Civil War may have been warranted, and he emphasizes personal aide John Rawlings' role in managing Grant's image and sometimes his behavior. Korda attempts to plumb Grant more than Bunting does, with the overall result that he seems more speculative than Bunting, and the exaggerations in Korda's epilogue ("Why Grant?") make him seem less trustworthy. Korda is easier to read though less stylish than Bunting, but both make Grant, for all his taciturnity and shyness, a fascinating and major historical player. Ray OlsonCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved