From New York Times best-selling 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' 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 best seller; 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.
©2012 H. W. Brands; ©2012 Random House Audio
"Once again, H. W. Brands has crafted a wonderful portrait of a great leader who endured and prevailed in hours of stress and strain. Brands' U. S. Grant is a compelling figure, a man too often overlooked by history. This book rectifies that with grace and insight." (Jon Meacham, author of American Lion, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for biography)
"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.... [Brands'] 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...with a keen mind, stout character, and unpretentious manner. The result is a fine portrait of the quintessential American hero." (Publishers Weekly)
"Too frequently overshadowed or overlooked, U. S. Grant finally gets his due in H. W. Brands' splendid new biography. With verve and his trademark scholarship, Brands vividly brings Grant to life. Here, rendered in all his humanity, is the soldier, statesman, president. Here, too, is a man as much for our time as for his." (Jay Winik, author of April 1865 and The Great Upheaval)
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.
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.
The first half of this book, through Appomattox, is a detailed, meticulously researched account of Grant’s life and contributions. It convincingly sets forth what distinguished Grant from other Union generals. Brands also sets Grant’s activities within the general context of contemporary events and trends, but that analysis does not go very deep.
The second half of the book is much more rewarding. Of necessity, it deals with the issues and trends of the day and Grant’s influences on and reactions to them, and it focuses less on personal details. It sets forth the accomplishments of his administration, which are too often overshadowed by the scandals at the end of his term. Brands argues that Grant showed the same courage trying to protect the freedmen and, to a lesser extent, Native Americans, that he showed in battle.
The book also raises fascinating questions that deserve greater analysis, including: Did the Radical Republicans in Congress really hijack Reconstruction and direct it in ways Lincoln would never have countenanced, or did they try to save it from Johnson’s attempts to ingratiate himself with Southern Democrats? At the end of the Civil War, Grant was afraid the rebel armies would disintegrate into guerilla bands. While the armies did not “take to the hills,” should the KKK be treated as the reconstituted guerilla force that Grant feared? Sheridan considered the KKK to be terrorists. Had they been treated as such at the time, would civil rights have been established before more than another century had passed?
This would have probably been a more enjoyable listen if I hadn't already read the Grant biography by Jean Edward Smith. Smith's bio on Grant is superior to Brands' book. Both books offer a new look at Grant's time in war and peace that show his genius but honestly also recount his flaws.
Near the top of the books I have listened to so far.
The best thing about the book is that the author relays a full picture of Grant as a person and what made him tick.
The pace of the book was just right. It kept me engaged without moving too fast.
Grant, the man behind the myth.
Highly recommended to anyone.
Maybe if that friend didn't know anything or hadn't read much about Grant and the Civil War. Probably not if they have any knowledge on the subject. I would heartily recommend Mr. Brands other books though.
I actually had to push through to the finish. It did reinforce my strong opinion of Grant. If there was one fresh angle it would be a more balanced and higher opinion of his presidency, common opinion seems to portray it as too corrupt and not a very profitable presidency. He did a lot for Civil Rights and to keep reconstruction on some form of forward momentum, to keep politicians from erasing the positives gained from the Civil War.
I'm not sure, I'd have to give the sample a listen because I didn't really enjoy how he did this book. He delivers absolutely every single sentence like its the most important thing you've ever heard and in an over-the-top dramatic fashion with pauses every 10 words and tailing off on the last couple words. I was pretty disappointed and distracted by his reading, maybe he'd do a fiction story better.
Maybe I just knew too much about the subject already because I'd probably rather have spent the time on another book. It might be worth the investment if you are new to Grant though.
Don't let my review keep you from trying Brands other books, he is a great author and I actually wish he'd narrated the book, he's very interesting to listen to.
I would recommend this book. It is very long, but thorough. I rarely found myself wishing for the author to move on. At the conclusion of the book you will have a strong grasp of what kind of man Grant was, the time he lived in, and the decisions he made. I've seen commentary that this book paints Grant in a favorable light. That is a fair criticism but the author certainly supports his points.
I would compare this book to Ron Chernow's "Washington: A Life". In both cases one concludes the book with a deep understanding of the man and his time.
Perhaps I'm biased because it was one of the final scenes, but the funeral procession was quite moving.
No, due simply to the length. It is hard to stay engaged for several hours at a time. Said another way, it's not a "light read" but it is worthwhile.
Before I picked this book, I knew nothing of Grant. Though very long book, the reading is excellent.
Personal details about Grant. Great general but poor biz man. Clearly there are no super-humans who are good at everything.
Yes, I wish I could listen to it all in one sitting...
Great, but somehow, I believe it can be abridged.
Unless the friend is a serious Grant scholar- no. The book contains far too little of Brands astute insights and analysis and far too much "cut and paste" from Grant's Memoirs, Sherman's Memoirs, speeches, letters and newspaper articles of the period.
Using source material to make key points is helpful but droning on and on from letters and speeches is unnecessary.
The 10% that contained Brands insights and analysis.
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