Grant- Ron Chernow
Release Date: October 10, 2017
Rating (out of 5):
Synopsis: Ulysses S. Grant's life has typically been misunderstood. All too often he is caricatured as a chronic loser and an inept businessman, or as the triumphant but brutal Union general of the Civil War. But these stereotypes don't come close to capturing him, as Chernow shows in his masterful biography, the first to provide a complete understanding of the general and president whose fortunes rose and fell with dizzying speed and frequency.
With lucidity, breadth, and meticulousness, Chernow finds the threads that bind these disparate stories together, shedding new light on the man whom Walt Whitman described as “nothing heroic... and yet the greatest hero.” Chernow’s probing portrait of Grant's lifelong struggle with alcoholism transforms our understanding of the man at the deepest level. This is America's greatest biographer, bringing movingly to life one of our finest but most underappreciated presidents. The definitive biography, Grant is a grand synthesis of painstaking research and literary brilliance that makes sense of all sides of Grant's life, explaining how this simple Midwesterner could at once be so ordinary and so extraordinary.
As someone who loves history, I have a terrible confession to make: Grant is the first Ron Chernow book I've ever read. It will certainly not be the last. Chernow's Grant is meticulously researched, well-written, with an easy style and flow that make a biography feel less like a lecture and more like an intimate conversation. He provides descriptions and details that bring the time period and the people to vivid life.
Grant was a complex man: both brilliant and naive; overly trusting in civilian life while able to perfectly predict what others would do on the battlefield; a man who claimed to have no great political ambitions yet was a rare (at the time) two term president. Chernow reminds us of the personal connections of the generals of both the North and South- Grant attended West Point and fought in the Mexican War alongside William T. Sherman, Robert E Lee, and a veritable who's who of later Civil War leaders. The best man at his wedding was James Longstreet, who would go on to be a great Southern general in the war. Chernow also brings front and center Grant's hard work for African Americans, supporting the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, with equality and voting rights among his lifelong crusades. While Lincoln is remembered in American history as the President who ended slavery, readers of Grant will see that President U.S. Grant should be remembered as a tireless proponent of civil rights and militant enemy of the Ku Klux Klan.
Chernow doesn't turn away from Grant's failures in civilian life: his poverty before rejoining the army for the Civil War, his constant struggle with alcoholism, or Grant's repeated mistakes in trusting the wrong people in matters of finance- and occasionally in government. Grant's personal traits: pride, stubbornness, loyalty among others are shown as what made him the greatest general of his time, but also caused a steep learning curve as President.
Readers of Stephen W. Sears' Lincoln's Lieutenants will find this a perfect companion to their understanding of the generals of the Civil War, their successes and failures, radically different personalities, and their relationships with Lincoln. It continues to amaze me how individual personalities and personal ambitions shape the course of military history.
Fans of history, biographies, and military history will rejoice in this new biography of General Grant- which will stand unchallenged as his definitive biography for a long time. An easy, flowing narrative, Ron Chernow's Grant will change the average American's view of Grant forever.
I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review