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Ulysses S. Grant: Triumph Over Adversity, 1822-1865 Hardcover – February 21, 2000
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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.
Top customer reviews
The narrative passes lightly over Grant's formative years and picks up steam as Grant returns to uniform at the beginning of the Civil War. Simpson follows Grant through his growth as a military leader in his early campaigns in Tennessee, including his trial by fire at Shiloh, leading to his increasingly confident leadership at Vicksburg, Chattanooga, the Wilderness, Petersburg, and finally Appomattox. Simpson's analysis may contain few new facts, but the author deserves credit for not taking older accounts at face value, investigating Grant's drinking problems, his attitudes about slavery, and his skill at army politics.
Simpson's final chapter on Grant attempts to make sense of Grant's stunning leap from store front clerk in 1861 to victorious General of the Union armies by 1865. A complete understanding of Grant as a person somehow continues to elude historians. Simpson attributes Grant's successes to his character and his strengths as a leader, attributes sometimes hidden by his low-key personality. Simpson does not spare Grant his faults, including his ambition, his unwillingness to admit mistakes and his sometimes poor judgment of character.
"Ulysses S. Grant" is highly recommended to students of the Civil War as a fascinating and nuanced portrait of Grant as general.
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.
In fact, Grant had such hard luck before the war, that one could easily claim that the defining aspect of Grant's character was adversity. In Ulysses S. Grant: Triumph Over Adversity, 1822-1865 (the first of a two-volume biography), author and Civil War historian Brooks D. Simpson provides a closer look at the struggles through which one man emerged triumphant in spite of himself. What results is a balanced portrait of an essentially moral, modest man who shunned fancy military maneuvers for common-sense action, skillfully balancing bickering generals and multiple politicians while bringing the Civil War, at long last, to a successful conclusion.
Grant's personal life and the difficulties he faced played a major role in the man he eventually became. But unlike Pulitzer Prize-winning Grant biographer William McFeely, Simpson does not shun these influences on the General's makeup. The many conflicting personalities within Grant's life (a slave-holding father-in-law, a father who never shunned an attempt to cash in on his son's military successes, and a strong-willed wife) were the proving grounds where Grant honed his skill at handling the various military and political personalities during the war.
Born on April 27, 1822, Hiram Ulysses Grant's boyhood was distinguished only by an extraordinary skill with horses. At age seventeen, he entered West Point, where a fateful error in his registration changed his name to Ulysses S. Grant. (During the war, those initials came to stand for "Unconditional Surrender" Grant.) His unremarkable West Point career preceded a stint in the Mexican War, after which Grant wedded Julia Dent in 1848, following a bumpy courtship.
Thinking Julia would be unhappy as the bride of a professional army man, Grant resigned from the only occupation which had thus far engaged his interest, making the ill-starred choice to experiment in the business world. Various entrepreneurial attempts, including peddling wood on street corners and an attempt at farming, all met with disaster. At his lowest point, Grant found himself serving as a lowly clerk in his father's general store.
All his life, Grant had sought to prove himself - either to himself or someone else - but then along came the Civil War, bringing redemption for Grant as it did for other men who appeared ill-suited for ordinary life. Grant reenlisted and his life changed forever.
Though obviously partial to his subject, Simpson also notes Grant's tactical errors with unflinching honesty. But he does so in a balanced, well-researched effort that is more than a "warts and all" picture. From the bloody fields of Shiloh to the stubborn siege of Vicksburg, Simpson examines not only Grant's actions but those of the other players on the stage. Grant prosecuted the war while facing jealous superiors, wily politicians and resentful generals, all of whom thought they could do a better job than their commander.
Was Grant a hero? Most certainly. When other Union generals refused to move, Grant stubbornly pushed forward. Did he drink? Yes. However, the alleged degree of his drinking was often exaggerated by men who suffered from rampant ambition and an eagerness to pass on falsehoods or rumors to Grant's superiors in order to further their own careers. Was he a butcher? No - not when viewed through the lens of military necessity. Grant, sensible about war, knew that war meant killing and dying - but he was not immune to the suffering around him. Indeed, he knew that swift prosecution of the war meant, in the long run, lives saved, but the sufferings of his troops never failed to upset or move him.
In his preface to Grant's memoirs, Simpson notes that when Grant was asked to write his memoirs to the monthly magazine Century, he inquired of the publication's editor, Robert U. Johnson, "Do you really think any one would be interested in a book by me?" Clearly the General had no idea of the fascination with which he was regarded, both by those of his time and of times to come. The upcoming second volume of the series, entitled Ulysses S. Grant: The Fruits of Victory, 1865-1885 will examine Grant's post-war life and his Presidency and complete one man's illuminating portrait of a figure who continues to inspire devotion and debate.