Author: Ron Chernow
tl;dr:A 5-star rating, despite plenty of questionable editorial decisions, is the only option for a much needed recanting of one of America’s great men.
Grant has been lost in history. Militarily, perhaps the middle child of American Generals between Washington and Eisenhower. And his Presidency has been forever overshadowed by Lincoln and his administration’s scandals. Chernow does an excellent job of documenting for readers the context which has been lost - painting us a picture of a man worthy of Mt. Rushmore.
The ebb and flow of Grant’s fortunes are parallel products of his obstinate character and virtue. A fearless warrior and patriot who began his Midwestern life in southern Ohio, he came into his own during the Mexican-American war, proving to be an apt soldier. Chernow then tells the stories of Grant’s battlefield brilliance during the Civil War in exhilarating and detailed fashion.
He also details how that legendary virtue led him to frequently misjudge those who lacked it.
It’s almost unthinkable that the man who led the Union to victory, held the country together during Reconstruction, and reached mythical status – was scrounging the streets of Galena Illinois for cash.
The book also does a great job telling lesser known triumphs such as staving off war with Britain and defanging the KKK.
Ultimately, I think the book should have been a two-volume endeavor. The section on his Presidency seems rushed at times and you can’t help but feel like there’s glossing over of major events. Grant’s silent campaign for the nomination in 1880 also lacks a ton of detail on what the principal characters were doing to advance it.
The other problem is that the first half of the book spends entirely too much time on Grant’s battle with alcohol (as most Amazon reviews note). But readers who make it past this will be rewarded.
It’s clear why Grant didn’t follow in Washington’s footsteps and earn Chernow another Pulitzer. But it’s certainly worth the read – hardly any bore to it.
Grant was the quintessential common man with an uncommon desire to succeed. Even if he didn’t show it.
First published on June 28, 2020