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Ulysses S. Grant: Triumph Over Adversity, 1822-1865 Hardcover – February 21, 2000

4.0 out of 5 stars 47 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Here is a superb first in a projected two-volume study of the Union general and president. Serving as neither his subject's advocate nor his prosecutor, Arizona State University historian Simpson provides an eminently informed and finely balanced portrait of Ulysses S. Grant as man, husband, failed entrepreneur and shrewd, victorious general. Simpson (Let Us Have Peace: Ulysses S. Grant and the Politics of War and Reconstruction, 1861-1868) uses carefully excavated facts and anecdotes to reveal an individual far more complex than the caricature (drunken, barbarous in battle, corrupt when given opportunity) handed down to us by popular history. At the same time, Simpson does not gloss over Grant's shortcomings. Although a fan of the general's, Simpson is not in the business of writing apologetics, and therein lies his strength. Appropriately, Simpson dispenses with Grant's pre-Civil War life in the first 70 pages of his book, devoting the balance to his name-making and often controversial Civil War exploits. Most importantly, Simpson shows in Grant the vital trait he shares with every great warrior-leader before or since: a hatred of warfare. War, said Grant, "is at all times a sad and cruel business... and nothing but imperative duty could induce me to engage in its work or witness its horrors." History Book Cub main selection. (Feb.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

In his Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Ulysses S. Grant (Grant: A Biography), historian William McFeely portrayed the soldier-statesman-president as a liar, a battlefield butcher of men, and a racist. Sixteen years later, Geoffrey Perret's hagiographic work (Ulysses S. Grant: Soldier and President, LJ 7/97) cast Grant as an ethical, intelligent, and spiritually introspective man ill served by back-biting staff officers, incompetent field commanders, and self-aggrandizing political hacks. This balanced contribution from Simpson (The Reconstruction Presidents, LJ 6/15/98) offers a finely nuanced view of Grant as sometimes petty and vindictive, stubborn, partial to favorites, politically expedient, and willing to sacrifice principle in pursuit of results but nevertheless always the determined foe of slavery and Southern nationalism. The author dramatically traces his "triumph over adversity" theme through Grant's adolescence in Ohio, tenure at the Military Academy, tour of duty in the Mexican War, failed business ventures and exasperating domestic life, and grueling ascendancy to the pinnacle of the Union army and closes with his painful attempts to forestall Radical Republican legislation aimed at punishing the postwar South. The author's excellent afterword persuasively explains the complexities and seeming contradictions of his subject's character and genius. An auspicious beginning to Simpson's planned two-volume study; highly recommended for all public and academic libraries.
---John Carver Edwards, Univ. of Georgia Libs., Athens
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; None edition (February 21, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0395659949
  • ISBN-13: 978-0395659946
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.3 x 1.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #504,916 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The criticisms of this book are hard to fathom. Brooks Simpson's wonderful new biography of Ulysses S. Grant--one of the least-understood and most-maligned of the "Great Americans"--is full of Grant's humanity, his complexities, his enigmas, and his sensibilities. Far from white-washing Grant's drinking, Simpson points out that Grant was keenly aware that he was a classic alcoholic. That's not what was important; what was important is what Grant did about it, and how the public perceptions of him then, and largely now, have been wrong. And far from sketching a passionless, boring Grant, Simpson vividly portrays Grant's human side: his intense love for his wife and children; his struggles to measure up to the expectations of his father and his father-in-law; the hurt he felt over casualties; and the actual tears that came--which were seen and written about by many of his contemporaries--when a loss was just too much to take.
I enjoyed this book immensely precisely because it painted Grant as a person with all the weaknesses and frailties that accompany all of us. And yet Grant became great. The best part of the book is Simpson's concluding essay on exactly why that was so. I have concluded that, while Grant is not often included in the pantheon of American heroes, I think he would have preferred it that way. This is biography at its best--stripped of both glorification and gratuitous criticism. I am anxiously awaiting the second volume.
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Format: Hardcover
Mr. Simpson has written a meticulously researched and readable biography of a fascinating man. I am baffled by some of the lest enthused reviews appearing here as I found this book to be the finest military biography I have ever read (and I have read most of those written about figures of the Civil War).
I found I couldn't put this book down and I would recommend this book highly to anyone who wishes to actually feel as though you have talked about Grant with a lifelong friend of his.
Buy this book if you are even marginally interested in this time in our country's history but especially if you think you can't learn any more about US Grant.
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Format: Hardcover
It is hard to imagine that Ulysses S. Grant could still be controversial 140 years after the end of the Civil War, but judging by the reviews posted for this book one has to assume that this is the case. As a native of the American South it would be easy for me to join in with the negative reviewers but I was quite impressed with this book. While I must respect all opinions expressed in this forum and assume that all reviews are honest and sincere, I can't help but suspect that some of the unhappiness with this book is rooted in a dislike for Grant.

First of all, I found the author's writing style to be quite good and very readable. There were to be sure a few dry areas but not many. Unfortunately, most of those dry areas are to be found early in the book and that may explain why some readers were turned off. The author has also mastered the use of quotes, which seems to be a problem area for many historians. When Professor Simpson uses a quote it is used in perfect context and it is always just the right length. Many historians have the bad habit of including far too many quotes that are far too long and end up distracting the reader so this author's mastery of the technique was a welcome relief. Simpson has also done an excellent job of researching his subject although the Southern point of view is conspicuous in it's absence.

Simpson is fond of his subject as are most biographers but he does not hesitate to criticize Grant when criticism is called for. For example, Grant's claims that he was not surprised at Shiloh are treated with the contempt such claims deserve. The author makes it very clear that Grant was indeed surprised and that his claims to the contrary are pure nonsense. Simpson also spends a great deal of time handling the questions about Grant's drinking habits.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
U.S. Grant is a difficult man for modern readers to understand. He was tenacious to the point of being dogged, a battler who saved some of the lives of his men by fighting and thereby losing others; a man of sensivitivy whose habits were the topic of great gossip and some truth.
This book reads easily, as a smooth story of a difficult man. This author captures some of the battles in a very clear fashion, specifically the Battle of the Wilderness. One comes away with an understanding of the strategy, the reality, the messiness and the role Grant played for better and worse.
By weaving the political realities with the battles, and leavening both with an understanding of how Grant's private life was impacted, this author comes closer to capturing what happened to this man than most military histories can ever do. But the book also sheds light on the military realities.
This is a good book. And the nuanced approach will lend itself to the forthcoming second volume -- about Grant's later life and Presidency. That should be an eye opener.
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Format: Hardcover
One need only read the reviews of this book by James McPherson in The New Republic and Robert Remini in The New York Times Book Review to realize that here is a book that many prominent historians phrase highly. Thus I was bemused by some of the criticisms directed toward this book, and none so much as that offered by Robert Redman, a fellow who appears to be a few bricks shy of a load in his celebration of George Thomas and his denigration of Ulysses S. Grant. Mr. Redman simply does not know what he is talking about (and neither do several of his positing buddies). Here, to balance this, is some of what UCLA professor Joan Waugh had to say:
Brooks D. Simpson's splendid new biography of Ulysses S. Grant recounts the remarkable story of the thirty-nine-year-old clerk who rose swiftly through the ranks of the Northern army during the Civil War to command the entire Union military effort, win the war, and secure the peace. In this first volume of two, Simpson spends little time on Grant's early life. The bulk of the book offers a meticulously researched account of his military career in the Civil War. Simpson's Grant is a complex, intelligent, and ultimately masterful leader of men and of armies. Although Simpson does not shy from discussions of miscues and mistakes, in the end his evaluation of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant is positive, even glowing. **** The chapters that cover Grant's subsequent career in the war show Simpson's mastery of both military and political sources as well as his talent for fine writing. Simpson avoids the "great battles and leaders" syndrome by linking the story of Grant and the western theater with a close and careful contextual analysis of why he emerged by 1864 as the leading general of the Northern armies.
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