by Ron Chernow

Paperback, 2018





Penguin Books (2018), Edition: Reprint, 1104 pages


"Ulysses S. Grant's life has typically been misunderstood. All too often he is caricatured as a chronic loser and 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 Ron 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."--Book jacket.

Media reviews

For all its scholarly and literary strengths, this book’s greatest service is to remind us of Grant’s significant achievements at the end of the war and after, which have too long been overlooked and are too important today to be left in the dark.

User reviews

LibraryThing member greeniezona
The second book for our Less Stupid Civil War reading group. It was interesting as a follow-up to Battle Cry of Freedom, getting Grant's story before the war, going over the Civil War again, but this time with a focus on Grant's armies, but then, especially what happened after the war -- Grant's presidency, Reconstruction, violence in the South... Grant's strengths and weaknesses as a president, the corruption of the Gilded Age, the brief promise of full citizenship for freed blacks, and then how quickly that promise was eroded by murder, fraud, and antipathy.

Sometimes I questioned some of Chernow's choices -- he'd go into little asides giving minor biographies of some of the bit players in Grant's life, when I would have preferred more info on those closest to him instead -- or later, when Grant is president, there are mentions of so many Senators and other political players, and I was constantly wondering: Tyler, Polk, Garfield? Had they been presidents already or would be presidents later? Were they actually just relatives of presidents? But these almost familiar appearances were rarely explained.

Overall, though, I appreciated the relatively even-handed way Chernow approached Grant's controversies -- the drinking, the Whiskey Ring corruption, etc. As much as Grant's memoirs have been praised (which I may someday still read), I appreciated the perspective of a third party here.

I'm no Grant scholar, but I expect that's why I liked this book so much -- as a reintroduction to a man whose reputation has changed wildly over the ages -- largely inversely with the Lost Cause theory of the Civil War. It's good to have him back -- faults included -- but with a new understanding of all he did and tried to do to make the promise of America true for all Americans.
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LibraryThing member Stbalbach
Grant is a biographer's dream. An improbable war hero, a beaten underdog who rose against the odds, a likeable person. So it's no surprise there are an embarrassment of Grant biography riches: a Pulitzer Prize winner, another Pulitzer nominee and at least 5 other high quality award-winning top-shelf biographies still in print, not to mention Grant's own memoir some consider the best of the Civil War. Given the competition, a way to distinguish from the crowd is to write one longer than the rest, Chernow's specialty. For those who read the earlier biographies, they might wonder what more is found in this 1000 page behemoth. I couldn't really say, this is my first Grant bio, but I don't feel the need to read another soon.

I knew little about Grant and so everything was new. Chernow's descriptions of the Civil War in the West helped solidify that complex theater, as well as the Overland campaign, a single running battle of attrition. I was amazed how close the South came to re-enacting slavery after the war, and how crucial Grant was to stopping it. Also the amount of violence that continued for years afterwards, I'd like to learn more. Grant was certainly the most important person of the era, after Lincoln.

This is a fine book, very readable. Chernow is sympathetic to his subject and reader.
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LibraryThing member meacoleman
LOVE this book! Ron Chernow's impeccable and thorough research leads to a lively story about an American hero who is underappreciated and often misunderstood.
LibraryThing member Unreachableshelf
Thorough, readable, and engrossing.
LibraryThing member Whiskey3pa
A superbly readable book. Despite being nearly one thousand pages, this book reads quickly. An even handed look at Grant's strengths and weaknesses provide a complete picture of the subject. Highly recommended.
LibraryThing member nmele
I had read and admired Grant's memoirs but since Grant left a lot out of that work, I enjoyed Chernow's more thorough treatment of the challenges, life and accomplishments of the general who won the Civil War and, as president, tried with all his ability to reunite the nation. Unfortunately, I felt that Chernow was so thorough that the book drags a times. For example, how often do we need to go over the truths, lies and exaggerations about Grant's use of alcohol. I was also skeptical that Grant was as progressive as Chernow portrays him, despite his evidently sincere and strenuous efforts to preserve the rights of black Americans during his years in the White House. One surprise was to find the role Grant played after his presidency as a diplomat without portfolio.… (more)
LibraryThing member DanTarlin
This book is long, which I guess is how these big popular histories are supposed to be these days, but it's really engrossing too. I think many popular histories would benefit from more brevity, but I guess that's an argument for another day.
Chernow is a Grant defender, and makes a good case that many of the criticisms of the man- his alcoholism, his brutal military tactics, his ineffectiveness in stopping the South from initiating Jim Crow, the corruption of his administration- are unfair.

For starters, he paints Grant as a man who was prone to alcoholism, but who was able to abstain from drink most of the time; I was struck by his understanding of the nature of alcoholism well before there was any science on this. He employed a staff officer during the Civil War whose job was at least partially to keep alcohol away from him. By the post-Civil War era, he had largely conquered it, and would be characterized today as someone fully "in recovery", though without any of the supports a similar person would have today.

His military exploits are grippingly described, and a great case is made for him as a really good general with a strong grasp of strategy that his northern predecessors and contemporaries did not possess. Mainly, he understood that when you have the larger army and the greater resources, the strategy is to attack and stay on the offensive, whereas other generals in the north were too timid and kept allowing the South to resupply and reorganize when they were ripe for the picking.

As for Reconstruction, this is tougher. The book does a great job laying out the challenges of protecting ex-slaves in an unrepentant South, and I realized that this part of US history is really poorly taught in schools (at least to me, and I was a History major in college!). On one hand, Chernow believes that Grant's heart was in the right place and that he had very progressive views on rights for African-Americans. On the other hand, though, he didn't really do enough to keep southern mobs from killing lots of innocent people and dis-enfranchising Black people. At the same time, the north was exhausted and there wasn't much support for continuing to occupy the south. It was a tough situation, but I think one can make the argument that Grant cared more about being magnanimous toward white southerners than about protecting black southerners.

Also interesting, Grant was amazingly naive in his personal/business life, and trusted a long string of charlatans and thieves during his presidency (leading to lots of corruption scandals during his presidency, of which he was apparently unaware until each one broke), and throughout his life- he was repeatedly swindled by confidence men, and never seemed to learn and be less trusting.

Good read, if you've got the time.
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LibraryThing member christinejoseph
Defeated Robert E. Lee. Realized his potential during the Civil War. Military fame and became a 2 term President but his administration was marred by scandal. Worked with Mark Twain on his autobigraphy
LibraryThing member breic
After starting this book, barely getting through the introduction, I quickly set it aside. It suffers the flaw of many popular biographies of idolizing the subject. Grant is good, under-appreciated by history, and can do no bad. I came back to the book, and this flaw persists throughout. Chernow is constantly making excuses for Grant, or skipping over negative situations.

With that said, I still enjoyed the book tremendously and learned a lot from it. I learned the most from Chernow's description of Grant's presidency, when he was trying to manage Reconstruction, and the period immediately afterward. It was intriguing to ponder the challenges Grant faced, and how things could have gone differently.
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LibraryThing member hcubic
Wonderful book.
LibraryThing member Schmerguls
5585. Grant, by Ron Chernow read 10 Oct 2018) Because I read McFeeley's excellent biography of Grant on 9 Feb 1985 I thought it might not be necessary to read this massive biography, though I had read with much appreciation Chernow's biographies of the House of Morgan (on 14 June 1994), Rockefeller (on 22 Nov 1999), Hamilton (on 27 Nov 2004), and Washington (on 6 Jul 2011), when my nephew gave me a copy of this book I decided I should read it and I am very glad I did. It tells very well of Grant's life, beginning on 27 April 1822, of his time at West Point, his surfdy service in the Mexican War, his sruggles in the Army thereafter, his leaving the Army and his undistinguished time as a civilian from 1854 to 1861, his exemplary time and steady advancement during the Civil War, his interesting time during Andrew Johnson's presidency, his two terms as President, his trip around the world in 1877 and 1878, his effort to have a third term as President, and the dramatic events between 1880 and his death at 8:08 A.M. on July 25, 1885. Chernow ighlights Grant's efforts to protect the rights of of the ex-slaves andin that regard Grant was on the right side, even though there was much scandal in his administration due to Grant's over-trusting nature. . So there was much ad during Grant's ime as President but Chernow shows the good position he took in regard to the rights of blacks as the whites of the South ruthlessly retook power and reduced the Negro to subserviency.. The book deserves to be read and overall it is good reading and the picture it presents is highly interesting.… (more)


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