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Ulysses S. Grant (Eminent Lives) Hardcover – September 28, 2004

3.9 out of 5 stars 68 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

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 Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Series: Eminent Lives
  • Hardcover: 161 pages
  • Publisher: EminLives; First edition (September 28, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060590157
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060590154
  • Product Dimensions: 7.4 x 5.3 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,567,361 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By David M. Dougherty VINE VOICE on August 25, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is a tiny book that one can easily read in a few hours, apparently intended for those (90%) of the current US population for whom the name of Ulysses Grant is unrecognizable. And as usual for a British author writing about American history, many of the facts are wrong and he feels compelled to compare Grant and his other American examples to British figures like Churchill, Wellington and Montgomery.

That being said, this would be a reasonable book to give a 8th grader to hopefully interest him in American history. The writing is crisp and the prose flows easily.

Author Korda essentially relies on two (count 'em, TWO) sources for most of his work; the highly controversial McFeely with its many errors and the 1928 work by Woodward. It does not seem as though Korda read Grant's superb autobiography, but he presents a very sympathetic portrait of Grant that might inspire further interest in his subject.

The best parts of the book are the author's depiction of Grant's childhood, his personal bravery, rock-solid marriage, liberal attitudes (at a time when the Republicans were liberal and the Democrats conservative), and the close of his life when he wrote his autobiography. It is well-known that Grant was an abject business failure, putting the interests of others over his own, and showing a great deal of undeserved trust and loyalty. Although Grant was an extreme example of a military man unable to function as a civilian businessman, one should remember that others such as Patton, Eisenhower, Pershing, Lee etc, were never so tested. An uncommonly brave man, Grant saw and understood the tragedies of war and in spite of personal feelings was able to do his duty to the best of his abilities.
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Format: Hardcover
I had looked forward to gaining new insights into Grant, particularly about his two presidential terms, from this book. Unfortunately, the book reads, as another reviewer said, like a high school term paper. In my opinion, it should have received a low mark. First, there are factual errors. For example, the author is confused as to which General Smith served under General Butler and in suggesting that Sheridan's ride around Lee's army was part and parcel with his scorched-earth campaign in the Shenandoah valley. These do not give me much confidence regarding the quality of scholarship for the rest of the book.

Secondly, I don't think that the book does a good job of supporting many of its conclusions. For example, while admittedly more a matter of opinion, the book characterizes Grant's military strategy as one of attrition, largely ignoring both the political subtexts and the actual elements of Grant's strategy to bring the war to conclusion. There is a rather naïve discussion of General Butler's political standing and none as to why it was politically expedient to leave him in his command during the 1864 election, a decision with tremendous and disastrous impact on the campaign against Richmond and the army of Northern Virginia. There is no discussion of Bank's efforts in Texas, or of the initial failures of Hunter's campaign in the Shenandoah Valley although all of these were elements of or affected Grant's strategic vision. There is no discussion as to why Grant chose to move on Lee's right rather than his left - certainly an issue that would give the reader an insight into Grant's ability to integrate both military and political variables into his campaign strategy.

All in all a jejune, disappointing book not worth the candle.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Military history is often a tragedy the first time around and a farce when it repeats, as this perceptive book makes abundantly clear in outlining and assessing the career of America's greatest general.

Fans of Robert E. Lee may well argue about the "greatest", the blunt fact is that Grant understood Lee better than Lee understood Grant. Korda makes the point again and again that Grant, except on rare occasions, was able to correctly assess battlefield conditions and quickly exploit every indication of weakness.

Grant was bitterly criticized as a butcher, similar to Gen. George "Blood and Guts" Patton in World War II. Veterans of Patton's armies have told me Patton's success was based on "his guts, our blood". But I've yet to meet anyone who regrets having served with Patton. The same is true of Grant; good soldiers always praise a general who wins, dead soldiers don't complain.

Grant understood that victory meant killing enough soldiers to make the Confederate states quit. He understood the war was won at Gettysburg; just as Gen. Dwight Eisenhower knew World War II was won in Normandy. The tragic legacy of Grant is that too many generals since then have copied his "butcher" qualities without understanding his tactical brilliance; thus the appalling slaughter of World War I.

Grant was the perfect American success story; literally a "barefoot" buy who rose to command the armies of the nation and then serve two terms in the White House. He was also the "perfect" American because of his absolute trust in the essential goodness, decency and honesty of others; politicians and business people took cynical and unlimited advantage of these qualities, which left his administration mired in the deep stink of scandal.

In war, Gen.
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