In so many ways Grant comes to us now as much a mirror as a history lesson. As history, it is remarkable, full of fascinating details sure to make it interesting both to those with the most cursory knowledge of Grant’s life and to those who have read his memoirs or any of several previous biographies ... For all its scholarly and literary strengths, this book’s greatest service is to remind us of Grant’s significant achievements at the end of the war and after, which have too long been overlooked and are too important today to be left in the dark ... Chernow shows a fine balance in exposing Grant’s flaws and missteps as president, and the ill-fated turn that Reconstruction took after a promising start, while making it clear that Grant’s contributions after Appomattox were as consequential to the survival of our democracy as any that came before. As Americans continue the struggle to defend justice and equality in our tumultuous and divisive era, we need to know what Grant did when our country’s very existence hung in the balance. If we still believe in forming a more perfect union, his steady and courageous example is more valuable than ever.
Chernow rewards the reader with considerable life-and-times background, clear-eyed perspective, sympathy that stops short of sycophancy, and gritty and intimate details ... Along with industrialization, continental expansion, and the rise of mass consumerism, the principal theme in this biography, as in the years of Grant’s life, is the role of the African-American in our history, culture, and economy. Here Chernow is unambiguous. Grant, who married into a slaveholding family and owned a slave for a time, regarded slavery as an irredeemable evil ... All of this has fresh relevancy for our time. In this era, when the meaning, impact, and statues of the Civil War-era are undergoing fresh evaluation, Grant very likely will emerge unscathed. The Chernow biography assures his place in the American pantheon for decades to come.
Grant is a stirring defense of an underrated general and unfairly maligned president. Its great contribution to the popular understanding of the Civil War and its aftermath is to expose the roots of the longstanding bias against Grant: White southerners and their allies wanted to portray Reconstruction as a tragic folly, rather than a radical and unfinished revolution. To be sure, a sympathetic treatment was to be expected: Chernow is enormously defensive of his subjects … Grant’s real strength: its treatment of Reconstruction. It is portrayed as a continuation of the divisions that led to the Civil War, rather than a grace note, a national embarrassment, or a well-intentioned failure … Chernow has given us a rare kind of popular history: one that forces readers to confront hard truths, not just revel in America’s all too fleeting triumphs.
Chernow is clearly out to find undiscovered nobility in his story, and he succeeds; he also finds uncannily prescient tragedy. There are ways in which Grant’s times eerily resemble our own ... Grant is vast and panoramic in ways that history buffs will love. Books of its caliber by writers of Chernow’s stature are rare, and this one qualifies as a major event. Chernow grapples with an enormous amount of material, while mostly sustaining a tight focus. He manages to put on Grant goggles and deal primarily with this one soldier’s role in the military, this one leader’s role in the Civil War. And then the role of one president — branded a political amateur — in leading a country still coming apart at the seams ... The book includes an awful lot of instances when Grant slipped up in his abstinence, but Chernow is deeply in his subject’s camp, always ready to play apologist about the drinking and other troubling behaviors ... Of course, Grant’s efforts to protect former slaves didn’t keep them from suffering after the war, in the backlash against Reconstruction. And Grant had trouble protecting himself as well, facing severe financial troubles after his presidency. Chernow’s indispensable book, which attempts to see Grant’s life as a triumph, is also steeped in tragedy.
...a massive and beautifully written portrait that may well be a culmination of that revisionist trend. Chernow views Grant as a modest man who, unlike any of his West Point contemporaries, sought neither fame nor glory. Instead, he regarded the winning of the Civil War as a test of duty, and he pursued that with dogged determination. Perhaps he lacked the flair of some other commanders, but he was a master in coordination of troop movements and supply of ordinance and other essential materials. Like his friend William Sherman, Grant knew the war had to be waged against the farms and factories that supplied Confederate soldiers. Chernow doesn’t gloss over Grant’s struggle with alcoholism or his tendency to trust shady operators. However, his willingness to protect the gains of freemen and to fight the KKK was an example of the moral courage he consistently displayed. This is a superb tribute to Grant, whose greatness is earning increased appreciation.
...[a] masterful and often poignant biography, a 1,000-page brick of a book that nevertheless moves quickly — much like its subject in war — and persuasively upends the conventional take on Gen. Grant as a butcher on the battlefield and President Grant as a bumbler in the White House ... The Civil War years comprise the best part of Chernow’s book, a familiar tale that nonetheless becomes gripping in his telling ... rarely has a consequential American life played out in such dramatic fashion. Chernow’s gracefully written biography, which promises to be the definitive work on Grant for years to come, is fully equal to the man’s remarkable story.
Chernow recognizes he can’t outwrite Grant. Instead, the goal of Grant is to restore Grant’s reputation to where it was 130 years ago. To that end, the 959-page biography is like Grant’s own Civil War campaigns: a massive accumulation of resources, deployed in an inexorable fashion to overwhelm an immoral opposition ... For being a million pages long, this book is brisk and clear, and if it doesn’t spawn a Tony-winning musical—country and soul would be fitting this time, not hip-hop—it won’t be Chernow’s or Grant’s fault ... Chernow’s Grant is as relevant a modern figure as his Hamilton. His Grant is a reminder that the very best American leaders can be, and should be, self-made, hard-working, modest for themselves and ambitious for their nation, future-looking, tolerant, and with a heart for the poor and the least.
To rise above craftsmanship, one must work with abundant, varied and complicated facts. Chernow does that, presenting research that bulks Grant to nearly 1,000 pages of narrative. It allows him to write a rich and sensitive portrait of the inner Grant — from reluctant West Point cadet to civilian failure to triumphant general ... As a historian, Chernow proves somewhat uneven. His research into Grant’s struggles with alcohol would be better if he discussed the scale and intensity of the temperance movement; that would explain contemporaries’ obsession with drink and Grant’s personal shame. Chernow’s account of Grant’s military career, however, works well, particularly in exploring his closest relationships. Most important, the book centers on the story of black liberation, from Grant’s embrace of emancipation as a general to his enforcement of civil rights as president. If African Americans play too passive a role in this telling, Chernow’s emphasis is exactly right, and his account of Grant’s views is revealing ... His design does not delight with artful structure and delivers no pleasures of expectation, revelation or surprise. He rarely opens a chapter with sentences that hum the themes to come. He does not switch the point of view to allow a secondary character to expand the book’s scope. He stacks up adjectives, cliches and stock phrases ... Yet, [Virginia] Woolf herself liked good craftsmanship, which Chernow delivers. He guides us into the character of a famously reticent man, revealing how he could be both a failure and a conqueror, principled yet surprisingly naive.
It’s implicit in Ron Chernow’s magisterial biography, Grant, that he’d like to change that ... Like Chernow’s earlier door-stoppers, Washington and Hamilton among them, Grant is a biography that demands the unconditional surrender of its readers ... Grant was far more complicated, and thus more interesting, than we were ever taught ... More than earlier Grant biographers H.W. Brands and Ronald C. White, Chernow emphasizes Grant’s path-breaking but under-recognized role as a champion of blacks. He’s also relentless in pursuit of the alcoholism theme ... Chernow is not the first to praise it as 'probably the foremost military memoir in the English language.'
As readers of Mr. Chernow’s best-selling lives of George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and others know, he is a compelling storyteller. Much of the story he sets out to tell here may by now seem familiar, but he adds rich detail and brings to vivid life the reticent, unprepossessing but resolute man whom Walt Whitman called 'nothing heroic . . . and yet the greatest hero' ... As recent events in Charlottesville, Va., and elsewhere attest, the bizarre nostalgia for the Confederacy that so angered Grant stubbornly endures, and, sadly, 132 years after his death, we’re still not where he hoped we’d be.
...a stupendous biography ... Chernow’s biography is replete with fascinating details and insightful political analysis, a combination that brings Grant and his time to life ... While Chernow’s biography may be hefty, it is also uncommonly compelling and timely. Perhaps a Broadway adaptation wouldn’t be such a bad idea. . . . In the meantime, put Grant on your must-read list.
Reading this compelling book, it’s hard to imagine that we’ll continue to define Grant by these scandals rather than all he accomplished in winning the war and doing his best to make peace, on inclusive terms that would be fair to all. No president after Lincoln and before Lyndon Johnson did so much for civil rights. It was the bravest and hardest of many battles this great general fought.
...this anvil of a book — at nearly a thousand pages of narrative — may prove a lumbering journey for casual consumers of American history, even though Chernow writes with grace and builds momentum. But where his Hamilton sprang freshly from the page in all his exotic, mercurial, nation-inventing dimension, Chernow’s Grant must remain the stolid, deeply shadowed figure of past biography ... Chernow has all the details, of course, and relies on letters and solid chronicles rather than interpretive leaps or glib psycho-history.
...a demanding but essential read ... Chernow’s detailed portrait of Grant’s private life and struggles humanizes a man often described as sphinxlike ... There would be many second thoughts about Grant, whose military and political record was subjected to an acid scrutiny. Chernow, however, convincingly restores Grant to the pantheon of great Americans.
...a magnificent book ... Indeed, after reading this deeply researched and superbly written volume, the reader will understand why Walt Whitman put Grant, along with Washington, Lincoln, and Ralph Waldo Emerson in his personal pantheon of great Americans ... Chernow’s special gift is to present a complete and compelling picture of his subjects. His biographies do not offer up marble deities on a pedestal; he gives us flesh and blood human beings and helps us understand what made them tick. Just as he did with George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, Chernow brings Ulysses S. Grant to life. At the end of the book, the reader feels as if he knows the man. This is richly rewarding and compelling reading.
...admiring, intensely detailed, and rarely dull ... In this sympathetic biography, the author continues the revival of Grant’s reputation. At nearly 1,000 pages, Chernow delivers a deeply researched, everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know biography, but few readers will regret the experience.
[Chernow] entertains in this informative whopper as he upends the long-held view of Ulysses S. Grant as a lumbering general and incompetent president ... Chernow spares few details, but Grant was a complex, mostly admirable figure, and this may become the definitive biography for the foreseeable future.