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Grant is one of the most underrated heroes of American history. He is usually remembered as a drunk, a butcher, or an incompetent, who had one of the most corrupt presidential administrations ever. There's a grain of truth in some of these — Grant did have a drinking problem earlier in his life; his final push to end the Civil War resulted in appalling casualties; and many of the men he picked for his administration betrayed his trust. (No evidence about the incompetence, except with money: he was a brilliant general and a wonderful writer.)
But Grant remains a hero: personally honest, a devoted husband and father, a courageous soldier, a brilliant strategist, and totally committed to Lincoln's vision for ending the war. H. W. Brands demonstrates his remarkable virtues in chapter after fast-moving chapter. Even his presidency gets more positive attention than usual: among other things, he broke the power of the Ku Klux Klan in the postwar south.
And of course there's the inspiring story of his battle with bankruptcy and cancer and his struggle to complete his memoirs before succumbing to the final assault. Their subsequent publication (by Mark Twain) ensured the prosperity of his family for many years after his death.
H. W. Brands tells the story as much as possible in the words of the participants. Every biographer of Grant will quote from the same letters and journals and memoirs; but usually these are snippets interspersed with summary and interpretation. Brands is more generous in his quotations, presenting whole paragraphs and even groups of paragraphs. The result is an exceptionally vivid account. Brands has captured him in motion.
Stephen Hoye narrates briskly and with a lot more passion than is usual in nonfiction. It's an audiobook I plan to return to again and again.
43 of 43 people found this review helpful
As someone who has read extensively on the American Civil War I found H. W. Brands' biography of Grant excellent. I have long thought of Grant as an unappreciated General in spite of the fact that I was taught in High School that he was a blundering and bloody fool who just happened to come to command the armies of the Republic at an opportune time. How wrong those teachers were.
The biography is complete and covers from his early childhood through his time at West Point, his participation in the Mexican War, his attempts to become a farmer, the Civil War, his time as President and the years after. Most of what I had previously read, including Grant's own writings, covered only the period of the Civil War and the battles Grant had participated in. This book makes clear that Grant was an educated man, someone who was completely honest and of open mind. His aversion to slavery is made clear by his decision to free his slave when he left the slave owning state and his future decisions to never own another slave, his acceptance of the war as one to free the slaves and his willingness to use African-Americans as soldiers while many of his peers stubbornly resisted doing so. His intelligence and clear-headed thinking are made clear through his letters to his wife and friends as is what Shelby Foote, in his books on the Civil War, referred to as Grant's "3 am courage". A great man although flawed by his trusting nature.
An excellent read and highly recommended. While I have read several other histories/biographies by H. W. Brands, this one is the best of the lot and is excellently narrated by Stephen Hoye. If you have any interest in the American Civil War you would be well served to read this book.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful