Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: When is Lin-Manuel Miranda going to make a musical out of this?
Quick synopsis: A (very) in depth biography of Ulysses S. Grant.
Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: The Battle of Shiloh had more casualties than the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the Mexican War combined. Gettysburg would more than double that.
Fun Fact for History Nerds: Grant’s groomsmen at his wedding were James Longstreet, Cadmus Wilcox, and Bernard Pratte. All of them would later surrender to Grant at Appomattox.
My Take: Ulysses S. Grant (not his real name, actually) is one of those historical figures who can be lionized or vilified using bare facts. He made it quite easy, actually.
Ulysses S. Grant was a master of the battlefield and is recognized by many military luminaries as a genius.
Ulysses S. Grant was hilariously bad at business ventures and choosing who to trust under those circumstances.
Where Chernow is a master is in supporting his conclusions. The Pulitzer Prize winning Grant by William S. McFeely is a horrible book which paints Grant a villain using pop psychology and sparsely supported conjecture. Chernow backs up everything he says with primary sources, takes the good with the bad, and uses the opinions of people relative to their times. The last part is very important. Many of Grant’s detractors had strong reasons to try and bring him down, whether because they lost to him on the battlefield (hello Bobby E. Lee!) or refused to bend to his will in politics.
However, Chernow does not allow Grant off easy for his shortcomings which were readily apparent. Grant was extremely naïve in multiple areas and they marred much of his legacy. He is rated lowly as a president, but Chernow resurrects his legacy as the archenemy of the KKK. Chernow also points out that much of the scandals which erupted under Grant didn’t actually start with him. Grant tried to work within the system he inherited and the fact no one ever truly accused him of being crooked himself is testament to that. Even still, Washington he was not.
Verdict: If you are a history nerd, everything Chernow writes is required reading. If you are new to the genre, 900 pages is a bit intimidating, but worth it.
If You Liked This Try:
- Ron Chernow, Hamilton and Washington
- Robert Massie, Catherine the Great
- Andrew Roberts, Napoleon
- Kristen Downey, Isabella
- Charles Bracelen Flood, Grant and Sherman