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Grant Paperback – April 9, 2002
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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 the Hardcover edition.
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 the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
Grant's resilience was formed in the dark years before the Civil War. Prone to terrible financial luck, every business venture Grant's hand touched was undoubtedly cursed to fail. I was surprised to learn that before the war Grant spent years in poverty. Struggling to live and support his family, he spent hours a day selling fire wood on a street corner. These years molded Grant and prepared him for what was to come.
In battle Grant was resilient. In victory he was gracious. In peace he was principled. Much of Smith's account records the presidency of U. S. Grant (and while I was far more interested in the Civil War) I was pleased to learn that while not a great President, Grant was a good one. He improved relations with England, helped to rebuild the South, supported oppressed people groups (Native Americans & African Americans), and vetoed a dangerous inflationary bill. Much is made of the scandals and bribes that occurred throughout the Grant administration, and perhaps rightfully so. Grant's radical loyalty for his friends and simplistic trust of people proved destructive. However, flawed as he was, I cannot deny that Grant was just the man the United States needed--both during and after the war.
As to the biography itself, I was impressed with Smith's account. I found it to be very scholarly and yet easy to read. My complaints are too few maps, and I found certain parts before and after the war rather dull. All in all a very good--solid account.
In any case, the majority of the biography focuses on the civil war and Grant in the military. It begins in Mexico, covers his desititute years between the Mexican War and the Civil War, and then Grant's rise during the Civil War. While you never get to feel like you know who Grant is on a personal level, the writing lets you see the war Grant did, and just how steady and clear-headed Grant was. You also get the strong sense of honesty that was Grant's great strength, and in some ways, his weakness (he was betrayed in business so many times, I can't actually recall how many times it happened).
As an introduction to Grant, this gives you a good overview of all of Grant's failures and successes. It is interesting throughout, and I always wanted to keep reading more. Great man, great biography.
For me, the most insightful chapters came between the end of the Civil War and the beginning of Grant's presidency. I had no idea how much animosity there was for Andrew Johnson among the military and members of Congress. His footnote in history is inevitably tied to his status as the first President ever impeached, but this book does an outstanding job of describing the background behind those soured relationships. It also shows how weak the office of the President was back then. Backed by Republicans in Congress and his own immense popularity, Grant was routinely able to defy his Commander-in-Chief on numerous occasions during Reconstruction. A military officer exhibiting similar defiance to a President today is simply unthinkable.
Finally, this book does a superb job of illuminating the character of Abraham Lincoln. After all that has been written about our greatest President, I did not think this possible, but sometimes the best insights to a personality come from books written about other people who knew him. I was continually struck by Lincoln's humility in his correspondence with Grant, offering "suggestions" that could just as easily have been direct orders, coming as they did from the Commander-in-Chief. The two men became friends in part because both had that unique thirst for success that comes from men who have experienced an abundance of failure. Grant was Lincoln's seventh commander to lead the Union's armies in the East. Lincoln was Grant's ultimate protector - someone who would let him do his job no matter how long it took. Each had faith in the other, and this is one of those very unique partnerships in American history that served the country so well (Roosevelt and Eisenhower/Truman and Marshall also come to mind).
There's something in this book for every interest - military, political, and personal.