The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses Grant in War and Peace

H.W. Brands. Doubleday, $35 (736p) ISBN 978-0-385-53241-9
This authoritative biography of an obscure failure and occasional drunkard who became a Civil War generalissimo and the 18th U. S. president is a study in two kinds of moral courage. The first infused Grant’s military leadership with decisiveness, confidence in his own judgment, and a usually well-calculated willingness to gamble men’s lives on risky maneuvers. The second inspired his presidency to a principled and effective support of the rights of freedmen in the South (sometimes at bayonet point) that politically consolidated the war’s fragile verdict. Unfortunately, Grant’s judgment failed him on business matters, from bad horse trades in his youth to the loss of his fortune in old age to a Wall Street ponzi scheme—and failed the nation’s economy when his tight money policies exacerbated the depression of the 1870s. This new biography by University of Texas–Austin history professor Brands (Traitor to His Class) is comprehensive but well-paced and vividly readable; his narrative of Grant’s military campaigns in particular is lucid, colorful, and focused on telling moments of decision. His Grant emerges as an immensely appealing figure—though except for a wartime outburst of anti-Semitism, later repented, which the author relates—with a keen mind, stout character, and unpretentious manner. The result is a fine portrait of the quintessential American hero. Photos. Agent: req. (Oct. 12)
Reviewed on: 05/21/2012
Release date: 10/02/2012
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