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The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses Grant…
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The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses Grant in War and Peace (2012)

by H. W. Brands

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Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
Good biography on what is, for a Canadian, an obscure American President Very much an eye opener, never knew that he was such a hero and an advocate for equality for the races. Given what is still happening very much prescient for today. ( )
  charlie68 | Jul 10, 2016 |
An excellent biography of one of America's most consistently-underrated historical figures. Brands does an excellent job of illuminating Grant's early life and struggles, not only with the bottle but with his failings as a provider--despite his best efforts. As he does so, Brands shows the character that enabled Grant to overcome these failures and rise to become the most beloved general since Washington, and the most popular President of the 19th Century (at least in terms of electoral success).

The outlining of Grant's military tenure during the Civil War is very solid, demonstrating that he was the best strategic thinker on either side, and no slouch as a tactician (Brands notes that Grant's casualty rates were lower as a proportion of men in combat than Lee's despite being on the offensive much more often).

But the eye-opener for me was Brands' revisionist (and I use that term advisedly) assessment of Grant's two terms as President. Far from the failure "everyone knows" it to be, Grant's Presidency had a remarkable number of achievements: the Fifteenth Amendment, the squelching of the attempt to corner the gold market, the settling of claims against England stemming from the giving of commerce raiders to the Confederacy and, most crucially, Grant's dedication to civil rights for freedmen. In enforcing the Ku Klux Klan Act and related civil rights legislation and appointing determined attorneys general like Amos Akerman, Grant was the President most devoted to civil rights and racial equality until the arrival of Lyndon Johnson.

Where this reassessment (slightly) fails is in providing a thorough explanation of *why* Grant's reputation as President went to and remains mostly in the dustbin at this late date. To be sure, Brands' treatment of 1872-1880 is not all praise--Grant is rapped for his too-restrictive handling of the Panic of 1873, America's first industrial depression, which cast a shadow over much of his tenure. Though, interestingly, it didn't damage his personal popularity much (as opposed to damaging the GOP)--he came close to winning a nomination for a third term in 1880, and almost certainly would have won that election, too.

Still, it's an eye-opener that should prove a welcome tonic to the Good General/Bad President canard that unjustly haunts him.

Finally, Brands deftly handles Grant's last battle--a race against time to finish his memoirs as he was dying of throat cancer. As he did through his military career, Grant won this battle through dogged determination, dying a few days after he finished them, ensuring that his wife and family would be well-provided for.

All in all, an exceptional read even if you aren't interested in the era--but absolutely essential if you are. Four stars. ( )
  Dale.Price | Sep 8, 2015 |
Brands is very positive view of Grant during the Civil War--believing Grant to be the greatest military figure of the war. Once the Civil War is over, so is the excitement. He is also balanced in his view of Grant's Presidency-- a reasonable attempt to continue Reconstruction as proposed by Lincoln. Author insists that Grant’s presidency was not a scandal-filled failure, but does illuminate some. The book is modular; each chapter describes a specific portion of Grant's life: Mexican War, Vicksburg Campaign, Slavery, relationship with Sherman, Indian Wars, Custer & the Black Hills are but a few. It's a book that's easily readable and shorter by a lot than Grant's autobiography. ( )
  buffalogr | Mar 1, 2015 |
Very good one-volume biography of Ulysses S. Grant. Not quite up to the standards of those produced by Brooks Simpson and Jean Edward Smith...but not far behind. Vastly superior to the error riddled work by Geoffrey Perret or the technically competent, but interpretively flawed biography of Grant by William McFeely.

Brands demonstrates again that U.S. Grant is perhaps the most underrated figure in American history. His reputation trashed through the efforts of "lost cause" historians and their enablers in academia and the media - an attempt to whitewash their culpability in perpetuating slavery by elevating their rebellion as a noble "lost cause" - Grant's reputation is finally being restored to its proper place.

This book continues the trend.

With the exception of only Lincoln himself, Grant is the man most responsible for saving the Union, and probably the man most responsible for keeping the country together after the Civil War.

Brands takes a positive view of his performance during the Civil War, leaving little doubt he believes Grant to be among the greatest military figures of the war, and perhaps the greatest in our history.

He also takes a sympathetic view of Grant's time as President, putting his two terms into the context of the times and the challenges he faced as he tried to shepherd the restoration of the Union. Grant's efforts on behalf of former African slaves is the high point of his Presidency. It would not be an exaggeration to characterize Grant as the first "civil rights" President. His efforts on behalf of Native Americans and his work preventing unscrupulous men from cornering the gold market are also highlights.

On the other hand, Brands does not shy away from criticizing Grant where it is warranted including his issuance of General Order #11, his naivete in remaining loyal to subordinates that were clearly corrupt, and his lack of imagination during the the depression that marked the final years of his Presidency.

This book is not perfect. It ends very abruptly, with little exploration of the reasons for the decline in Grant's reputation after his death (admittedly there are other books that explore this topic quite well). At the time of his death Grant was far and away the most popular figure in the United States, so some discussion of how he got from there to the caricature of him that gained prevalence later would have provided a more fitting coda. Also, I was disappointed at how little exploration there was of how a man who was selling firewood on the corner of his home town to make ends meet in 1861, rose so quickly to the pinnacle of power. What was it about Grant's personality that made that rise possible? So much of his inter war career is characterized by disappointment and sadness which is described well here. But as soon as Grant's fortunes turn, that aspect of his story is dropped. Sources may be hard to come by, and I usually disdain psycho-history, but in this case an attempt would have been worth it.

Overall...highly recommended! ( )
  mybucketlistofbooks | Jan 10, 2015 |
Overall, I thought this was a very well-written and well-researched biography of Grant. It was a very accessible volume, but still quite long (just over 600 pages). The main problem I had was that not all chapters flow as one; in many chapters the author jumps around and it is difficult to follow his thoughts. It almost seemed like his determination to have everything chronological held him back from organizing some of the middle chapters thematically. While I think this would have aided the reader, it would not be a reason to avoid the book. If you're looking for a good, readable biography on Grant, I would recommend this one. ( )
  weejane | Oct 18, 2014 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
H. W. Brandsprimary authorall editionscalculated
Burgoyne, John T.Mapssecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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(Prologue) In a chair on the porch of a cottage in the mountains, an old man sits.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385532415, Hardcover)

From New York Times bestselling author H. W. Brands, a masterful biography of the Civil War general and two-term president who saved the Union twice, on the battlefield and in the White House, holding the country together at two critical turning points in our history.

Ulysses Grant rose from obscurity to discover he had a genius for battle, and he propelled the Union to victory in the Civil War. After Abraham Lincoln's assassination and the disastrous brief presidency of Andrew Johnson, America turned to Grant again to unite the country, this time as president. In Brands's sweeping, majestic full biography, Grant emerges as a heroic figure who was fearlessly on the side of right. He was a beloved commander in the field but willing to make the troop sacrifices necessary to win the war, even in the face of storms of criticism. He worked valiantly to protect the rights of freedmen in the South; Brands calls him the last presidential defender of black civil rights for nearly a century. He played it straight with the American Indians, allowing them to shape their own fate even as the realities of Manifest Destiny meant the end of their way of life.  He was an enormously popular president whose memoirs were a huge bestseller; yet within decades of his death his reputation was in tatters, the victim of Southerners who resented his policies on Reconstruction. In this page-turning biography, Brands now reconsiders Grant's legacy and provides a compelling and intimate portrait of a man who saved the Union on the battlefield and consolidated that victory as a resolute and principled political leader.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:20 -0400)

A masterful biography of the Civil War general and two-term president who saved the Union twice, on the battlefield and in the White House, holding the country together at two critical turning points in our history.

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