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Customer Review

76 of 85 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An incomplete portrait, October 26, 2012
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This review is from: The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses Grant in War and Peace (Hardcover)
I just finished this book, and I agree with other reviewers that there is nothing new here and that there is no insightful analysis of Grant. I have come to appreciate Grant very much, and I am glad for any book that tries to restore his unduly denigrated character, but Brands' book about TR was much better. This book seemed more like a series of vignettes about Grant than it did a cohesive analysis of and story about his life. I never felt pulled into the story of Grant's life like I did in Jean Edward Smith's book about Grant. And I thought it odd that some notable stories about Grant that truly illustrate his unique character were never mentioned, such as his message to President Lincoln that "whatever happens, there will be no turning back," or the excitement of the troops when Grant turned south at the conclusion of the Wilderness battles in May 1864. The best chapters were actually the very few that gave some insight to his family life, although I didn't think Brands gave enough emphasis to Grant's love for his wife throughout his career except to somewhat disparage Julia. And after noting Grant's concern about his daughter's marriage to an Englishman, he never returned to this issue and the subsequent problems with that marriage. In short, I never quite thought that Brands truly figured out Grant; I think Smith did.

Also, one other thing I thought odd about the book: there is a picture said to be Grant on a horse at City Point in the photos in the middle of the book, and the picture also is found on the title page at the front. However, it really doesn't look like a photo of Grant, except for the head, and a Google search quickly discloses that it is not in fact Grant on a horse at City Point, but is an early effort at editing photos by combining the head shot from the Brady photograph of Grant at Cold Harbor (on the cover), another general on a horse (who was larger in the middle than Grant), and some Confederate prisoners. Search for Grant Photograph at City Point and pick the Library of Congress website link for more info. I guess I just thought it odd the book used such a photograph, and maybe Brands didn't have much to do with that, but either way it further suggests that he never really took the time to truly understand Grant.
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Showing 1-9 of 9 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jan 25, 2013 8:21:08 AM PST
I belive there is at least one glaring mistake in this book. On page 581, Professor Brands writes about the Grants' meeting with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert after Grant left office in 1877. Prince Albert died on December 14, 1861.

Posted on May 22, 2013 11:25:03 AM PDT
I read your review and used Amazon's Look Inside feature to read the first pages of both Brands' and Smith's books. Just bought Smith's. Thank you.

Posted on Jun 16, 2013 2:07:50 PM PDT
I would recommend Jean Edward Smith's GRANT over HW Brands. Brands tends to glibness and storytelling. While Smith definitely is a great narrator, he is also serious about the causes and consequences of historical actions.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 17, 2013 4:06:38 PM PDT
T. Green says:
I have thought about Brands' book a lot since I originally posted that review and time hasn't changed my view. I agree that Smith's Grant bio is better. I have since read Brooks Simpson's Grant biography, and I believe it also is better than Brands' biography. For whatever reason, Brands apparently decided to tell the story with only minimal reference to writings other than Grant's (the same approach Meacham generally took in his American Lion biography of Jackson), which I think minimized stories like those I mentioned above that fill in a picture of just who Grant was. Smith and Simpson prepared a more-traditional biography that I find preferable to Brands' approach.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 17, 2013 4:08:34 PM PDT
T. Green says:
I think you'll like Smith's quite a bit (I like most anything Smith writes). If you are still interested in Grant after that, you might like Brooks Simpson's Grant bio as well.

Posted on Aug 9, 2013 6:31:33 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 9, 2013 6:34:59 PM PDT
Chris says:
Excellent review.

I would also highly recommend for readers the classic works on Grant by Lloyd Lewis 'Captain Sam Grant' and Bruce Catton 'Grant Moves South' and 'Grant Takes Command'.

I still think that they haven't been surpassed.


In reply to an earlier post on Aug 13, 2013 7:55:28 PM PDT
T. Green says:
I agree with that, particularly with respect to Grant Takes Command--a fantastic book indeed.

In reply to an earlier post on May 15, 2014 12:39:46 PM PDT
Daniel F. says:
Most likely Dr. Brands meant the future King Edward VII who would succeed to the throne after Victoria. His christened name was Albert Edward, after his father of whom you speak, and his grandfather Prince Edward (Victoria's father). Before Victoria's death he would have been known officially as Albert Edward, Prince of Wales.

Posted on Jun 25, 2014 7:35:46 PM PDT
Aqua Maureen says:
Thank you, T. Green, for warning me away from it. A bio of Grant that omits the story of the turning south on June 7 is seriously deficient. And to give short shrift to his marriage... inexcusable. The Ulysses-Julia marriage was one of the great romances of history. Frankly, had there been no Julia, I believe we never would have heard of Ulysses Grant. He'd have died in obscurity. Julia was the only person who believed in him in those rough years when nobody else did. In a letter he wrote to her as he was being shipped off to the Mexican War, he said that loving her gave him the impetus to try to be the best person he could be. I don't think that ever changed.
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