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Grant: A Biography

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Winner of the Pulitzer Prize. The seminal biography of one of America's towering, enigmatic figures. From his boyhood in Ohio to the battlefields of the Civil War and his presidency during the crucial years of Reconstruction, this Pulitzer Prize-winning biography traces the entire arc of Grant's life (1822-1885).Author Biography: William S. McFeely is the author of Yankee Stepfather, Frederick Douglass,(1822-1885).Author Winner of the Pulitzer Prize. The seminal biography of one of America's towering, enigmatic figures. From his boyhood in Ohio to the battlefields of the Civil War and his presidency during the crucial years of Reconstruction, this Pulitzer Prize-winning biography traces the entire arc of Grant's life (1822-1885).Author Biography: William S. McFeely is the author of Yankee Stepfather, Frederick Douglass, Sapelo's People, and, most recently, Proximity to Death. He lives in Wellfleet, Massachusetts.


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Winner of the Pulitzer Prize. The seminal biography of one of America's towering, enigmatic figures. From his boyhood in Ohio to the battlefields of the Civil War and his presidency during the crucial years of Reconstruction, this Pulitzer Prize-winning biography traces the entire arc of Grant's life (1822-1885).Author Biography: William S. McFeely is the author of Yankee Stepfather, Frederick Douglass,(1822-1885).Author Winner of the Pulitzer Prize. The seminal biography of one of America's towering, enigmatic figures. From his boyhood in Ohio to the battlefields of the Civil War and his presidency during the crucial years of Reconstruction, this Pulitzer Prize-winning biography traces the entire arc of Grant's life (1822-1885).Author Biography: William S. McFeely is the author of Yankee Stepfather, Frederick Douglass, Sapelo's People, and, most recently, Proximity to Death. He lives in Wellfleet, Massachusetts.

30 review for Grant: A Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    Not a float; June was a busy month... I laughed and nodded when McFeely cited, as evidence Ulysses Grant felt complete only in battle , the fact that Grant finished the Mexican War with two big promotions and a sterling combat record despite never having been assigned combat duties. He was his regiment’s quartermaster, the supply guy in the rear of the column, back with the mules. But dude could not stay out of a fight. During the final assault on Mexico City, future adversary Robert E. Lee Not a float; June was a busy month... I laughed and nodded when McFeely cited, as evidence Ulysses Grant felt complete only in battle , the fact that Grant finished the Mexican War with two big promotions and a sterling combat record despite never having been assigned combat duties. He was his regiment’s quartermaster, the supply guy in the rear of the column, back with the mules. But dude could not stay out of a fight. During the final assault on Mexico City, future adversary Robert E. Lee and the spearhead of US troops were pinned down under fire before San Cosme gate. Earlier, during preparations for the assault, Grant had, on his own hunch, reconnoitered a church whose belfry looked to him as if it could command the back of the San Cosme defenses. Now he rounded up some volunteers, unpacked a portable mountain howitzer, darted and dodged over the intervening terrain, parlayed with the padre in a politely intimidating Spanish, mounted the belfry, reassembled the gun, and began lobbing shells that scattered the Mexican troops. I once saw, but cannot locate for a link, the ad for Old Crow Bourbon that celebrated this feat (the image used was Grant in Mexico by Leutze, the painter of Washington Crossing the Delaware). In a 1950s print campaign, the distillers of Old Crow advertized the Famous Americans – Henry Clay, Mark Twain – who had once relished or praised the unrecoverable ancestor of their product. It seems they were eager to enroll Grant in the pantheon, or at least associate their brand name with the mythical fighting whiskey of Lincoln’s famous and possibly apocryphal quip. Warned by the paper-pushers that “Grant Drinks,” the president said he wouldn’t insist on proof of the allegation beyond the name of Grant’s favored brand — so that he could send barrels of it to his other generals. (I love that so much!) We know that Lincoln did say, “I can’t spare this man; he fights.” I had heard that McFeely’s book, a Pulitzer Prize winner, was flawed by the author’s dislike of his subject. I found disappointment instead of dislike; and besides, the object of a biographer of the underrated and caricatured Grant, McFeely writes in the preface, is not to make the reader like Grant, but to take Grant seriously. If you want to know why Grant is important, read this book. McFeely will not tell you why Grant was a great commander or how he won his campaigns (Grant will tell you that, in his modest and frightful Zen way), but he will introduce you to one of the defining figures of the nineteenth century, of the “bourgeois ideology” in all its nation-building grandeur and dollar-worshipping grotesquerie. This book made me think that Grant is an opaque figure — is opaque to us, and was to those who dismissed him during his interwar ennui — because his importance cannot be comprehended in a quick glance. And a quick glance is all we’re prepared to give historical figures — just as a quick glance was all the people of St. Louis were prepared to give the sullen sphinx who sold cordwood on the street corner, draped in a faded blue army overcoat. Ulysses and Julia Grant emerge from this book naïve and obscure people, rootless and rather alienated. Mayakovsky’s line about America’s never-quite secure “lower middle-class mass” is apt; Julia’s father was one of those unprepossessing Southern farmers who because he owned a handful of slaves demanded to be addressed with that undiscriminating regional honorific, “the Colonel” (Twain is acidic on this affectation). Ulysses’ brilliant campaigns in Mississippi and Tennessee, and his conclusion of the Civil War in the political theater of Virginia – his willingness to face what Lincoln called “the arithmetic” of the North’s numerical superiority, the relative replaceability of the Army of the Potomac (let’s fight nonstop, for a month, and when both armies are broken, we’ll just get a new one; the other guy, we know, won’t be able to get a new one, a plan which will go hand-in-hand with Sherman’s idea to march through the Confederacy’s economic heartland and burn it down) – elevated the Grants to the White House, to the heights of celebrity and power. The society of which Grant was idol and ruler was one in profound confusion. Grant’s friend Mark Twain — he roasted the general at one of those frenzied veterans’ banquets that for me capture the triumphant but traumatized “Gilded Age” North, feasts supplied with orgiastic amounts of whiskey and brandy, oysters and steaks, with drunken toasts and old camp songs shouted far into the night — said that where Americans had formerly “desired” money, after the war they fell down and worshiped it — and worshiped it no matter how it was acquired. I had tried to package, into a pithy or at least readably convoluted sentence (sorry about that shit above), synonymous testimonies of the postwar coarsening of American public morals; but why compete with Lionel Trilling’s essay on Twain? And the war that brought an end to the rich Mississippi days also marked a change in the quality of life in America which, to many men, consisted of a deterioration of American moral values. It is of course a human habit to look back on the past and find in it a better and more innocent time than the present. Yet in this instance there seems to be an objective basis for the judgment. We cannot disregard the testimony of men so diverse as Henry Adams, Walt Whitman, William Dean Howells, and Mark Twain himself, to mention but a few of the men who were in agreement on this point. All spoke of something that had gone out of American life after the war, some simplicity, some innocence, some peace. None of them was under any illusion about the amount of ordinary human wickedness that existed in the old days, and Mark Twain certainly was not. The difference was in the public attitude, in the things that were now accepted and made respectable in the national ideal. It was, they all felt, connected with new emotions about money. I said McFeely seems disappointed by Grant, an intelligent and sensitive man who because of a “dangerous” naïvete and circumambient cultural poverty, deferred to oligarchs and market manipulators in the monetary policy of his administration, and trusted them in the management of his post-presidential fortune, and even in the use of his name, in the Ponzi scheme which, for a while, was able to masquerade as a respectable Wall Street brokerage firm, Grant & Ward. (McFeely affects a bewilderment that Grant, who had been a poor man, an economic victim, could defer so eagerly to the interests of the wealthy; but he knows Grant wanted to join them.) Weeks after Grant found out he was broke, he was diagnosed with throat cancer; and wrote his Personal Memoirs while dying a horrible death – slow starvation as tumors expanded and blocked his esophagus – and in full view of a media circus. “Grant was destitute and on display as an object of national pity…but this very degree of humiliation laid the base for his last and greatest victory. He would treat his countrymen to another performance of heroism.” Penning famously “unmistakable” battlefield directives under shell fire is good practice for writing a lucid deathbed book – a book that started as a patriotic pity-bestseller (widowed Julia was well provided for by royalties) but never went out of print, and has survived to classic status. Motherfucker could write! People who dismiss Grant as a drunken nonentity evade the fact that his book has long outlasted the generation taught to revere it. I didn’t quite follow McFeely on the twists of Grant’s monetary policy, but his naiveté is apparent enough, and totally normal for Americans of that day (and to a great extent, of ours): the unquestioning belief in “progress,” without much idea of what “progress” (read “convenience”) means – or what it can destroy; the smug confidence that because republics (read “democracies”) are few and embattled, they are less rapacious than monarchies (read “dictatorships”), and are virtuous underdogs; the denial of class barriers enabled by the belief that because financiers and industrial robber barons do not constitute a hereditary aristocracy, then any working man with enough gumption can rise and join them; and finally, the outright worship of money, or at least the assumption that the amassment of riches signals virtuousness and moral strength, an assumption which I suppose is as the same as worship. McFeely calls Grant “the enshrined hero of a noble cause and the wayward antihero of sham values” – line that perfectly places Grant as symbol of time in which the free labor ideology was becoming a fig leaf for a new plutocracy. (Grant’s a much better symbol than Lincoln, whom some historians like to describe as a “corporate” or “railroad” lawyer – that he often was, but the railroads of the 1850s weren’t the monstrous and ungovernable conglomerates of late century.) Few scenes illustrate this ambiguity better than his reception in Newcastle, England, in 1877, at the outset of his post-presidential world tour. The working and middling classes of England had cheered the Union cause as the struggle of tradesmen and small farmers against an arrogant slave-owning aristocracy, and thousands of workers from the North Country poured into Newcastle to see Grant that day. He reviewed a procession of guilds and unions and workingmen’s associations – miners, plumbers, “brass molders and finishers,” carpenters and joiners, chainmakers, mill sawyers and machinists. And there is poignancy in the tanners of Elswick parading past with a banner that read, “Welcome back, General Grant, from Arms to Arts.” Grant was a tanner’s son and he despised the trade, returned to it only when he had five mouths to feed and no other options. He didn’t want to be one of them. I’ve read that in her Four in America, Gertrude Stein, indulging a sort of solemn biographic burlesque, wrote the latent lives or alternative careers of famous Americans. Henry James, who enjoyed reading military memoirs and in a spell of deathbed delirium thought he was Napoleon, is a general. Grant is a religious guru – Edmund Wilson found this bit persuasive, in view of Grant’s “majestical phlegm, an alienation in the midst of action, a capacity for watching in silence and commanding without excitement,” and he cites a letter in which Sherman said that Grant’s power lay in his “simple faith in success, which I can liken to nothing else than the faith a Christian has in his Savior.” For me elements of Grant’s character and life could to be arranged to suggest a poète maudit – the irony, the contextual vertigo, being that Grant’s alienation from and unfitness for the bourgeois hustle made him admire the hustle rather than scorn it. Grant stirs ironic Baudelairean echoes, at least in me. Baudelaire placed the solider among the few noble, that is immemorial and pre-capitalist, occupations, alongside that of the priest and the poet (“to know, to kill, to create”). When we consider that Grant found easy what others found hard – that he failed utterly as an entrepreneurial farmer, the typical profession of his male peers, but could administer and inspire the largest armies the modern world had then seen – how can we fail to recall Baudelaire’s “The Albatross,” in which The Poet is likened to a bird majestic on the wing but clumsily vulnerable on the hard ground of daily life, “the cripple who can fly”? How can we read of Grant’s imperturbability in battle, the concentration and self-command he felt under fire, and not think of Baudelaire’s Albatross-Poet, “who haunts the storm and laughs at the archer”? There is also a sartorial affinity, an imaginatively bridgeable distance, between the plutocratic president and the anarchist dandy, between the consummate Yankee and the poet who, in his partisanship of the Virginian Poe, disdained Yankees. “Though sometimes thought of as the most unkempt of our presidents,” writes McFeely, “Grant was, in fact, exceedingly well tailored,” clad in the black frock coat of the nineteenth century power elite, usually from Brooks Brothers. Baudelaire, for all his execration of the bourgeois, embraced the black frock coat as the “outer skin of the modern hero,” and might have been alluding to his own subtly tailored and soberly colored wardrobe when he wrote: …as for the eccentrics, who used to be easily distinguishable by their violent contrast of color, they content themselves nowadays much more with discreet differences of design and cut than of color. But I feel a little silly trying to imagine certain of Grant’s features – his failures, his floundering impracticality, the listlessness and ennui and drinking that shadowed his unused energies – as they might be manipulated into a Baudelairean persona of articulate alienation and mythopoeic guignon, when McFeely has so brilliantly portrayed those features in Grant’s actual social context. The historical Grant had no oppositional artistic mythos to sanctify his oddness; he was desperate to catch up, and when he reached a high place, to stay there. Ulysses and Julia Grant were common people who valued respectability, as their respective memoirs indicate: his are about the two wars he fought so well in, to the exclusion of anything about his difficult civilian existence; hers seem, at least from the excerpts McFeely provides, a genteel romance not unlike the memoirs of Elizabeth Custer, a sentimental fantasy of events in which horses are “bonny steeds” and her father’s (few) slaves “our old colored people”; a book in which her severely depressed husband’s resignation from the army, under a cloud of alcoholic rumor, is recorded thus: “Captain Grant, to my great delight, resigned his commission…and returned to me, his loving little wife.” This book is excellent social history. Excellent political history, too: I’ve harped on Grant the man as representative of a cultural and economic era, but McFeely also places the Grant’s administrations in a seemingly appropriate importance. Grant oversaw the Federal government’s gradual walk-back from Reconstruction (I had heard that he busted the KKK in his first term, which is true except that his Klan-busting attorney general was appointed for unrelated reasons, and sacked when he tried to regulate the railroads); pivotal Indian policy (Grant was considered a liberal here, because he pushed policy in which Native Americans were to be “resettled” (forced onto) reservations and brainwashed of their religions and languages, and made Christian farmers; the other side of the debate advocated wholesale extermination; this is a terrible world); and the beginnings of U.S. overseas imperialism, trying to make the Caribbean a U.S. lake, before the navy or the public was quite ready. He spent a lot of political capital trying to convince Congress to annex the Dominican Republic and make it a state; he thought blacks could be encouraged to emigrate there and boom! the Negro Problem would be solved, and the United States would have a naval fortress in the Caribbean. McFeely, and some other historians I’ve skimmed, argues that Grant’s presidency appears inconsequential because his main achievements were in foreign policy, and were aimed at the long game. Grant laid the foundation for the twentieth century Anglo-American alliance with a treaty that resolved all the old border disputes (the U.S. agreed to never invade Canada) and secured some maritime restitution from the British – during the Civil War Confederate commerce raiders built in Liverpool shipyards had decimated the American whaling and merchant fleets. The epilogue of his memoirs is a choppy delirium of advice to the nation: build a big-ass navy...cough...dominate the waters...cough...the Civil War was insane but putting it off would have put us behind in the race to build empires...cough...and we showed the world how badass and warlike we are...USA! USA! Still trying to get my head around this guy. He won the Civil War for the North, and re-established the Union which today has grown into the vastest consolidated power since the fall of Rome. He fought some of the greatest campaigns in history; was never defeated, and after the war was twice chosen by his countrymen as their President. If there is not food for myth here, where shall we seek it? His story is as amazing as Napoleon's, and as startling as Lenin's; yet enigma he lived and enigma he died, and though occasion was propitious and circumstances were favorable, enigma he remains. (J.F.C. Fuller, 1932) ----------- Shoddy exploitation followed Grant right to the grave. He was already the enshrined hero of a noble cause and the wayward antihero of sham values. McFeely doesn't quite pull off his Edmund Wilson impersonation but this book is still awesome. Review to follow, if I can digest. Grant's is one of the essential stories of the nineteenth century. I love that during Grant's two-year world tour Li Hung Chang and Bismarck both greeted him with something like: "I too fought and won massive wars and consolidated a future Great Power. Welcome to the Club." And in a bizarre upheaval of court practice, the Emperor Mutsuhito shook his hand.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Gerry

    We get to examine the life in whole of General Ulysses S. Grant and our 18th President in this work. Certainly no short task for authors who decide to undertake the biographical account of any person who held such a Military capacity followed by an election to the Presidency of the United States. It is not my intent to make this a long review, so I will keep to points I personally found “interesting” within this book on Grant. This book was published in 1981 and it was important to myself that I We get to examine the life in whole of General Ulysses S. Grant and our 18th President in this work. Certainly no short task for authors who decide to undertake the biographical account of any person who held such a Military capacity followed by an election to the Presidency of the United States. It is not my intent to make this a long review, so I will keep to points I personally found “interesting” within this book on Grant. This book was published in 1981 and it was important to myself that I read a book older in publication rather than newer. The revisionism that has occurred in American History has been a degrading attempt to often paint things not as they were> but rather what people would prefer to believe was the truth without examining the historical facts of the era to which they are reading and attempting to study for whatever the personal agenda may be socially. Hiram Ulysses Grant Ulysses pronounced Ul-is-is came from a working class family, more on the successful side than the other way around. His father was an effective storekeeper and tanner. Ulysses attempted both and despised both attempts at working these functions. He was a lousy accountant when he worked on the storefront side as a clerk. He preferred to be alone and loved horses – was considered the best professional equestrian in his 1843 class at West Point and he graduated 21 of 39. During his matriculation at West Point he grew to despise this as well – his father had the appointment set, as he really did not know what to do with the young man that was his son. He preferred to be alone while at West Point and preferred to read novels than conduct his studies – this would have a profound impact on his written account (later) on the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848. When Ulysses Grant’s appointment was signed by U.S. Congressman Thomas L. Hamer he knew “Hiram Ulysses Grant” only by “Ulysses” and gave Grant his “S” as a middle initial based on his mother’s maiden name. Grant liked it and stuck with it for the remainder of his life. After graduation from West Point he had hoped to be assigned to the Cavalry but was instead assigned to Quartermaster. The impact his Father had on him was never fully explored in this work as were other areas of his young life. The author did make an honest attempt but, in my opinion, fell short in this one mere facet of the Generals overall life. He did not earn favor with his Father and it seems there was much more negativity that flowed from Father to Son than the author was able to explore. In my opinion this is where is oft inability to be more of a secure self-reliant person originates. He did have his personal success as we know in battle and he did have good children that loved both he and his wife Julia. The family man in Grant and the author in Grant were both a success. His Presidency was an unfortunate consequence of lack in ability to do in the White House what he had accomplished on the battlefield in two American Wars. There were contradictions that existed in General Grant that cannot be ignored. On the one hand where he enjoyed being alone, after graduation from West Point and being married he never truly wanted to be “alone.” Not wanting to be without his wife is perfectly understandable; however, the contradiction continues when on the same day of his resignation from the U.S. Army while posted to California he also wrote another letter accepting his promotion to Captain (???) He was a depressed spirit during this posting in California and found comfort in the bottle – he drank because he was depressed and not the other way around. Overall, in this book I came to feel sorry for the young Grant, respected highly the soldier capabilities of Grant, appreciated sincerely his family qualities, and was saddened at his inability and lack of desire to make Reconstruction what it was intended to be during his Presidency. I came away believing that had President Lincoln not been assassinated, had President Johnson not been the turmoil runt that he was that Reconstruction would have been managed and most importantly enforced to the point of why the War Between the States had been fought for in the first place. The country became stronger and had the outcome not been the conclusion it had been then the United States could not have fought as it had during the First World War but would have been less effective and possibly negligible during the Second World War as one United States of America. I recommend this book for its upfront honesty and ability absent of political correctness (and other agendas) of the life of General and President Grant.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Saunders

    Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of the Civil War General and 18th President hasn't aged well considering the huge amount of Grant revisionism in recent decades. McFeely presents the consensus narrative of Grant as a personal wash-out, a butcher general who won the war through brute attrition tactics rather than strategy and a miserable failure of a President. He's loathe to praise Grant for anything beyond perseverance and determination, presenting even his brilliant campaigns at Vicksburg and Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of the Civil War General and 18th President hasn't aged well considering the huge amount of Grant revisionism in recent decades. McFeely presents the consensus narrative of Grant as a personal wash-out, a butcher general who won the war through brute attrition tactics rather than strategy and a miserable failure of a President. He's loathe to praise Grant for anything beyond perseverance and determination, presenting even his brilliant campaigns at Vicksburg and Chattanooga as badly mismanaged and won largely by forces (skilled subordinates, Confederate incompetence) beyond Grant's control; instead he focuses on near-failures like Shiloh and the catastrophe at the Crater as if they're the sum total of his military leadership. McFeely inexplicably devotes a twenty page chapter to the failed Hampton Roads peace conference while spending all of two on the Wilderness and Spotsylvania, for an example of how skewed his priorities are. He's not entirely wrong in his assessment of Grant's presidency, but his near-exclusive focus on corruption over the good faith, if only partially successful efforts to enforce Reconstruction and deal equitably with the Indians makes his portrayal hard to swallow. Nor does his constant insistence that Grant was a frothing racist, which seems unfounded by the historical record. Elegantly written and passionately argued, but presenting little of scholarly merit.

  4. 5 out of 5

    rmn

    This is a fantastic biography and not just because Grant led a bizarrely incredible life but because of the author's not well hidden disdain for Grant (no really, he kind of hates the guy). Even so, it is exceptionally well written and focuses more on the big picture of the United States during Grant's life and how Grant fit in to it rather than just a boring recitation of what Grant did everyday like such banalities as what kind of oatmeal he ate on some October morning in 1874 which many other This is a fantastic biography and not just because Grant led a bizarrely incredible life but because of the author's not well hidden disdain for Grant (no really, he kind of hates the guy). Even so, it is exceptionally well written and focuses more on the big picture of the United States during Grant's life and how Grant fit in to it rather than just a boring recitation of what Grant did everyday like such banalities as what kind of oatmeal he ate on some October morning in 1874 which many other biographers tend to do (and maybe you should take note of that for your next biography Mr. Chernow). As for Grant, like many mid to late 19th century presidents (Jackson, Lincoln, Garfield, etc.), he was a Horatio Alger rags to riches story (though the riches never quite really came) with the slight twist that he was pretty much a failure at everything but war (and drinking). To say he lucked in to his success is a bit disingenuous (because he was really good at killing soldiers, both his and those of the enemy, and he was really good at preparing and running a war), but without the Civil War, he would have just been a failed destitute farmer. When the war broke out, the Union needed trained military men and Grant fit the bill having graduated undistinguishingly (and that probably isn't a word) from West Point, having served in the army during the Mexican War (though as a quartermaster, not even a frontline soldier), and having stayed in the army for a couple years after that though without rising at all through the ranks. It's amazing, the Union needed men and he was a man. But they didn't just need men, they needed men to lead so pretty much anyone with any military experience was made a General. Thus all of a sudden Grant went from poor failed farmer to General in the Union army (though one of hundreds I believe, and in charge of a nothing little regiment in the now Midwest). It was then that Grant became Grant. While he started as a General in an out of the way location, he gradually won confrontations and battles and built up his reputation to the point that he became commander of the entire army where he was supposedly a brilliant military strategist with an ability to see the big picture (ie. we need to kill a lot of Southerners) which seems at odds with his inability to succeed in private business. The author lauds Grant for his ability to keep everything in his head and hand write all of his orders himself with little input from others. Anyway, you all know what happened in the war (spoiler alert: the Union won) and Grant became the face of victory as the conquering General with the folksy ways and he rode the wave of popularity all the way to an ineffective presidency. The eight years Grant was in office were marked by a failure to deliver real reconstruction (or even try to) and a cabinet filled with graft and scandal. Maybe the country needed a kind of ineffective figurehead to heal over those years, but it seems like a wasted opportunity where someone could have created real change. Post-presidency Grant toured the world, drank, and got swindled (and you all should really read this book ) only to save his family by publishing his memoirs before he died which proved to be lucrative. A truly amazing life. As for the author's interpretation, he paints Grant as a bit of a simpleton in everything but war. He is almost astounded by Grant's success and yet has a lot of respect for Grant the General and Grant's ability to see many steps ahead. The author's biggest criticism of Grant seems to be that he was a common man and yet left the common man when he became president, preferring to hobnob with the rich in his lifelong attempt to be a social climber and to be accepted by high society businessmen (and perhaps to prove himself to his father). It's quite a psychological profile. Anyway, the book is good. Read it.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jerome

    A critical, lively and well-researched biography of Grant, often at odds with more recent portraits of the man. McFeely’s Grant comes off as simple, pragmatic, and unpretentious. McFeely portrays Grant as an almost bloodthirsty warrior who had no problem with carnage and was generally insensitive to suffering. While Grant was known for his simplicity and modesty, McFeely argues that this was a carefully crafted image and that Grant’s presidential ambitions were more obvious than they seem. He is A critical, lively and well-researched biography of Grant, often at odds with more recent portraits of the man. McFeely’s Grant comes off as simple, pragmatic, and unpretentious. McFeely portrays Grant as an almost bloodthirsty warrior who had no problem with carnage and was generally insensitive to suffering. While Grant was known for his simplicity and modesty, McFeely argues that this was a carefully crafted image and that Grant’s presidential ambitions were more obvious than they seem. He is also critical of Grant’s Reconstruction policies. However, he does a great job telling the story of Grant’s presidency and the drama of this particular time period. McFeely portrays Grant’s relationship with Lincoln in a critical light, arguing that Lincoln was always fairly skeptical about the general. While probably true at first, more recent research does suggest that Lincoln eventually grew to appreciate Grant’s ability. McFeely also blasts Grant for the Cold Harbor fiasco but never really covers Grant’s own personal regret over that affair. McFeely’s treatment of Civil War strategy and Grant’s contribution in this area also feels rather inadequate, and the the treatment of the campaigns isn’t particularly in-depth. McFeely’s treatment of Grant’s presidency is a little dull, and deals more with the issues and controversies of the era than with Grant himself. While not always admiring of Grant’s public life and military career, McFeely is more favorable on Grant’s private life, such as his marriage with Julia and his obvious gifts as a writer. How Grant produced his memoirs while suffering from throat cancer is one of the most interesting parts of the book. McFeely's writing can also be humorous here and there: "That every boy has the chance to be president is the official fantasy of the American republic" and "In May 1864 Ulysses Grant began a vast campaign that was a hideous disaster in every respect save one---it worked." A lot of times the author indulges in psychobabble, like McFeely’s suggestion that Grant grew a beard due to sexual frustration, and there are some odd sentences that do stand out, like calling war a “colossal sick joke” and "Although a Virginian, Thomas was not a cordial host" and “By the summer of 1876 there was no one around the White House who gave a damn about the black people” and “Since one of the reasons for war is to have an excuse to do some drinking, it is not surprising that there was an enormous amount of it done during the Civil War.” And a lot it quite speculative, like McFeely referring to a letter from Grant referring to a black “boy” and then arguing that it was William Jones, even though Jones was in his thirties at the time. Of course, McFeely also argues that Grant did not care much about the situation of American blacks, despite his efforts against the KKK and his advocacy of the 15th amendment. At times, McFeely's writing is breezy: "Ulysses Grant in his throwaway lines---in his throwaway life---kept trying to get people to see the colossal sick joke. All you do is take the nicest guy on the block---the one who will not be diverted by dreams of vainglory or revenge or by the nonsense of masochism---and knowing he is not good for much else, let him act on the bold fact that war means killing the guy on the other side, or at least scaring him badly enough so that he will quit fighting." An interesting book with a rich narrative, although it can get a little stale and dense at times.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    http://bestpresidentialbios.com/2014/... “Grant: A Biography” is William McFeely’s Pulitzer Prize winning 1981 biography of the Union general and eighteenth president. McFeely is a historian and retired professor of history. He has authored numerous books including biographies of Frederick Douglass and Thomas Eakins. Although considered a seminal work on Grant, this biography is sometimes criticized for being too harsh toward its subject and for relying too frequently on psychological interpretation. But while the a http://bestpresidentialbios.com/2014/... “Grant: A Biography” is William McFeely’s Pulitzer Prize winning 1981 biography of the Union general and eighteenth president. McFeely is a historian and retired professor of history. He has authored numerous books including biographies of Frederick Douglass and Thomas Eakins. Although considered a seminal work on Grant, this biography is sometimes criticized for being too harsh toward its subject and for relying too frequently on psychological interpretation. But while the author is quick to criticize Grant (this former president certainly provides much to criticize), in the end McFeely’s appraisal is reasonably well balanced. I see no fault in McFeely’s psychological assessment of Grant, either. What is a biographer’s job if not to observe and fully assess his or her subject while distinguishing between fact and conjecture? In Grant’s case the task is all the larger due to his complicated and sometimes contradictory character. And McFeely’s judgment of Grant seems largely on-the-money. But while McFeely’s biography keeps itself firmly centered on Grant, his few real friends and his cadre of astonishingly poor advisers, it is unwilling to stray very far to provide context. Readers hoping to see the Civil War through Grant’s eyes, for example, will be disappointed. Although McFeely describes Grant’s great battles, rarely does he clearly describe the setting or discuss the broader scene. What I’ve rarely seen McFeely criticized for is his writing style. There are great writers who decide to become historians, and historians who elect to become writers. McFeely seems to fall into the latter category. His biography does not flow like the narrative of someone whose primary gift is prose. It more often has the feel of a legal brief that has been re-written by an English professor with a love for complex sentence structure. Although well written from an academic point of view, important messages and themes seldom jump off the page for the average reader. More often, they have to be teased from the text. Between the important nuggets of obvious wisdom are paragraphs of sometimes arduous supporting (or even seemingly tangential) detail. In general, if there is a simple way to make a point, McFeely will steer clear and find a more complex way of achieving the same result. His text is dense and potent and requires the reader to progress at a slower-than-average pace for full comprehension. If this biography does not quite seem intended for the mass market, neither is its natural audience limited to historians and presidential scholars. It is simply a comprehensive, old school book heavy on facts and light on extraneous image-setting. Rather than taking the time to animate his study, McFeely focuses on the daunting task of understanding how the failed businessman, the war hero and the strangely out-of-touch president could be just one man. It is a task he performs masterfully. In the end I liked – but did not love – McFeely’s biography of Grant. Although it is comprehensive, detailed and penetrating (most of the hallmarks of a great biography, in my view) it is not consistently accessible or engrossing. Nevertheless, this Pulitzer Prize winning biography provides a solid, thorough and revealing look at one of our most enigmatic presidents. Overall rating: 3¾ stars

  7. 5 out of 5

    Joe Kramer

    So, I finally finished this book on Ulysses S. Grant that I got for Christmas. Damn, who knew this would be such an exhaustive read. Needless to say this book was very, very, very thorough. Here's what I learned...here's this guy U.S. Grant from Ohio, he goes to West Point, fights in the Spanish American War, fairly standard stuff – some interesting perspective on Mexico and our countries actions in that war. Than he goes back home, to Galena, IL, where for at least ten yea So, I finally finished this book on Ulysses S. Grant that I got for Christmas. Damn, who knew this would be such an exhaustive read. Needless to say this book was very, very, very thorough. Here's what I learned...here's this guy U.S. Grant from Ohio, he goes to West Point, fights in the Spanish American War, fairly standard stuff – some interesting perspective on Mexico and our countries actions in that war. Than he goes back home, to Galena, IL, where for at least ten years he fails at basically everything he does, makes all sorts of bad decisions, bad business deals, screws up a lot of stuff, has no money, etc. Than the Civil War breaks out. He's like; hell, I was a captain the last time we were at war I should be at least that again - if not more (it is the Civil War after all). So he goes down, gets made a captain again, but just because there are so many bad decision makers at the start of the war he keeps rising through the ranks... pretty soon he's a General, and the next thing you know this guy is leading the entire Union Army, sitting at the side of Abraham Lincoln - crazy. All in all those years of screwing up made him a better judge of people, that and he was a very effective communicator when it came to issuing orders and working hard so he wind up being a pretty good General and an effective tactician. Than for a couple of years he screws around in Washington (he's still head of the Army) overseeing a bunch of screwed up reconstruction policy. Than, basically because he won the war he gets elected President where he oversees a bunch of really screwed up Indian policy and hands out a bunch of crooked deals to his war buddies, which people hate. Near the end of his life he goes on an around the world tour to places like Great Brittan and Japan, etc. Then, even as he's dying from smoking ten cigars a day he manages to pen one of the most prolific general/presidential biographies ever written, which saves his wife and family from bankruptcy upon its publication. Now he’s the subject of a really bad riddle, on a bill that people are looking to break and a park in Chicago.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jerry Landry

    Though I didn't always agree with him or with his policies, I have to admit that at numerous times while reading this book, I would exclaim aloud, "Poor Grant!" In some ways, Grant seems like the original hard luck kid. Though ultimately a well-known figure in American history, Grant could also have easily ended up as barely a footnote if that in our national story. McFeely does an excellent job of taking the reader through Grant's life, providing a description of the times and events directly o Though I didn't always agree with him or with his policies, I have to admit that at numerous times while reading this book, I would exclaim aloud, "Poor Grant!" In some ways, Grant seems like the original hard luck kid. Though ultimately a well-known figure in American history, Grant could also have easily ended up as barely a footnote if that in our national story. McFeely does an excellent job of taking the reader through Grant's life, providing a description of the times and events directly or indirectly affecting and affected by Grant. After finishing this biography, I found myself highly interested in learning more about Grant's administration and various characters who served in the Cabinet and as advisors to Grant. For better or worse, Grant's is certainly one of the liveliest of presidencies that I've read about thus far. I would definitely recommend this book to history scholars and students but also think that casual readers would get a great deal from this book and its examination of one of the most interesting "from obscurity to fame" stories in American history.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Christine

    I wanted to like Grant. Actually, before reading this book, I'm pretty sure that I did like him in a vague way. I knew only that he had been the savior of the Civil War, and that seemed like something we should be into. But then...it turns out....that he didn't actually get into the Civil War because he believed in the cause, but because he wanted a job because he sucked at everything else. Oh, and the fact the he pretty much didn't learn jack from being the world's awesomest general and instead I wanted to like Grant. Actually, before reading this book, I'm pretty sure that I did like him in a vague way. I knew only that he had been the savior of the Civil War, and that seemed like something we should be into. But then...it turns out....that he didn't actually get into the Civil War because he believed in the cause, but because he wanted a job because he sucked at everything else. Oh, and the fact the he pretty much didn't learn jack from being the world's awesomest general and instead his crappy presidency sort of ruined everything he did there. What's that about? He was more interested in being rich and "successful" than in being a good president, or even a good person, and it's kind of his fault that the Republican party doesn't care about anyone but getting the best for themselves. So yeah...not so much Grant. The book is exhaustively researched and gives an excellent picture of Grant the man, not Grant the legend.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Joseph Rose

    Although the author arrives at just conclusions about much of Ulysses S. Grant's generalship and personality—he dares to challenge the standard view of Grant as a great commander with a firmly upright character—the book's grasp of the military aspects of the Civil War is sometimes lacking. It's very elegantly written, which is hardly surprising for a winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Christie Bane

    If you are looking for the definitive Grant biography, one that does its best to give you every little detail of his life that has survived the 100+ years since he was president, this is your book. If you are looking for a quick overview of a moderately interesting president, this book will become a specter of dread as you become more and more certain that it's going to go on forever and you will never get through it. This is not to say that Grant wasn't an interesting guy. He was, for sure. The If you are looking for the definitive Grant biography, one that does its best to give you every little detail of his life that has survived the 100+ years since he was president, this is your book. If you are looking for a quick overview of a moderately interesting president, this book will become a specter of dread as you become more and more certain that it's going to go on forever and you will never get through it. This is not to say that Grant wasn't an interesting guy. He was, for sure. The most interesting thing about him was that he failed at SO MANY things before he succeeded at being a Civil War general. He failed at every business venture he started (and failed at more after his eight years in the White House). He was a completely unremarkable individual until his military service in the Civil War, which was how he rose to greatness. Most people, if they know anything about President Grant, know either that he was an alcoholic or that his administration was primarily known for corruption. While he certainly got drunk sometimes, nothing in this exhaustively researched biography made me think that he was drunk all the time or that his drinking had any significant effect on the way he ran the country. The corruption is another matter. That happened all over the place in his administration, and involved some of his closest friends; however, he himself was never implicated in anything more serious than defending his friends who were clearly guilty. Grant was president during a very difficult time in U.S. history -- the Reconstruction years. So he didn't do the best job with reconstruction -- well, who the hell would have? I personally don't believe there was a way for reconstruction to happen quickly and painlessly, and I also believe that Grant did as well as anyone could have when handed that giant mess. Other things I didn't know about Grant: *He once remarked that Venice would be a nice city, if they drained it. (Couldn't agree more.) *He went on a world tour after he left the White House. *He had a soft spot for Mexico. (Me too.) *He was dying of throat cancer while he was writing his memoirs, and had to race to get them done before he could let go of life peacefully. I would sum up this book thusly: Interesting President; biography much too dense for me (but can't say it wasn't well-researched).

  12. 4 out of 5

    Christopher

    So I just finished this 522 page work, so I feel as though I have lots to say about it; then again, where do I even start? Well, as far as the historical writing and research goes, McFeely did an exhaustive study on the man. There can be no argument that he did not provide immense detail, and as a student of history, this is generally what I'm looking for. That being said, he certainly assumes that the reader has a fairly adequate understanding of economics, banking, and currency. I'm a fairly s So I just finished this 522 page work, so I feel as though I have lots to say about it; then again, where do I even start? Well, as far as the historical writing and research goes, McFeely did an exhaustive study on the man. There can be no argument that he did not provide immense detail, and as a student of history, this is generally what I'm looking for. That being said, he certainly assumes that the reader has a fairly adequate understanding of economics, banking, and currency. I'm a fairly smart guy, but I have to admit, some of that was hard for me to follow. I'm not sure I always like the psycho-history that McFeely includes. He clearly does not like the man, but I think that a lot of the facts and events can speak for themselves, without McFeely's little digs. (When Grant went on a world wide tour after leaving office in 1877 for instance, he planned on going to the top of Mount Vesuvius. When logistics didn't allow for this to happen, McFeely writes "once again, Grant didn't make it to the top.") Come on. Leave the watered down metaphors at the door and just provide the details and facts. The book was littered with these little slights. That being said, I learned lots, and perhaps walked away being more confused about Grant than before I read it. McFeely's closing argument seems to be that, while Grant's story is remarkable in that he rose from nothing, had failure after failure after failure, but still managed to win the Civil War then become president, for this to happen is a danger to our republic, rather than a strength. Perhaps he is right, but I suppose I refuse to see it that way. To me, history is full of these stories. But let's talk about Grant. Was he a great general? I say yes. He understood what was necessary to win, and he executed. Was he a drunk? Probably not. He liked to drink, and so do I. Was he a bad businessman? Absolutely. Did his decency and loyalty to friends end up being his greatest flaw? Definitely. But, he did take strides to help the freedmen. He did want national unity. He did want free trade. The man had vision. Unfortunately he seemed unable to lead and execute this vision while in the White House.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Steven Meyers

    As compared to other biographies I've read, 'Grant' was a disappointment. Maybe it was the subject matter. The reserved Ulysses Grant was not a reservoir of colorful anecdotes. Also while the material is clearly presented the writing had no flair to it. Some may like the author's style but there were sections that practically put me to sleep. Mr. McFeely Pultizer-Prize winning biography was published in 1981. His pop psychology of what made Grant missed, I believe, more current knowledge about h As compared to other biographies I've read, 'Grant' was a disappointment. Maybe it was the subject matter. The reserved Ulysses Grant was not a reservoir of colorful anecdotes. Also while the material is clearly presented the writing had no flair to it. Some may like the author's style but there were sections that practically put me to sleep. Mr. McFeely Pultizer-Prize winning biography was published in 1981. His pop psychology of what made Grant missed, I believe, more current knowledge about how the brain works. Because of our family's situation, I've become quite adept at picking out individuals who have high-functioning autism a.k.a. Asperger's. It almost certain based upon the traits depicted in Mr. McFeely's work that Ulysses Grant was one. The biography has some interesting information but avoids getting into too much detail about General Grants Civil War battles. More time is spent during his presidential administration but, considering the rogue's gallery of corruption during his tenure, it also felt like the author skimmed over the eight years. Grant's life from his birth to the start of the Civil War covers a mere 75 pages in the paperback edition. Mr. McFeely's book covers the key points such as his involvement in the Mexican-American War, his attendance at West Point, the many failures as a businessman, his reputation as a binge drinker, the battles he fought during the Civil War, his actions towards Native Americans, Black Friday (1869), racism, the birth of the Ku Klux Klan, the Depression of 1873-1879, the Whiskey Ring, Reconstruction, and his iconic memoirs. Mr. McFeely covers the election of Grant's presidential successor but a more detailed and entertaining version can be found in Roy Morris Jr's 'Fraud of the Century: Rutherford B. Hayes, Samuel Tilden and the Stolen Election of 1876.' On researching other Ulysses S. Grant biographies, more reviewers seemed pleased with other options such as 'American Ulysses' by Ronald C. White and 'Grant' by Jean Edward Smith. If you know little about Grant, as I did, it may be to your advantage to read one of the two mentioned in the previous sentence. I learned a lot about our 18th President from the biography but it felt incomplete.

  14. 4 out of 5

    David Vining

    Traveling through American history by way of presidential biographies continues with Ulysses S. Grant. I chose Grant by William McFeely. I also bought Chernow's biography, but that shall come later. As a strict chronicle of the events of Grant's life, the book feels perfectly serviceable. We get the future general and president from his youth through the Mexican-American War, his struggles as an independent man, his rise to power in the Civil War, his rise to the presidency, his struggles a Traveling through American history by way of presidential biographies continues with Ulysses S. Grant. I chose Grant by William McFeely. I also bought Chernow's biography, but that shall come later. As a strict chronicle of the events of Grant's life, the book feels perfectly serviceable. We get the future general and president from his youth through the Mexican-American War, his struggles as an independent man, his rise to power in the Civil War, his rise to the presidency, his struggles around his key initiatives, and finally his trip around the world and his life's sad denouement. The picture of the broad strokes of the man's life feel clear and detailed enough to satisfy me. However, the book kind of fails when trying to delve into who Grant was as a man. McFeely goes into long suppositions about the Grant's thinking that are never supported by primary documents (of which he had plenty of access to), so I was left with the impression that McFeely was making up a lot of stuff. He starts the book with references to Freud, and it's obvious that he's using Freudian thought as a way to try and dig into who Grant was, since some technique must be used to sift through the material. My probably isn't with Freudianism itself (of which I have little opinion), but the fact that McFeely drops all primary sources for long periods of time in his most important sections. Why did Grant feel like it was necessary to sacrifice so many lives of his own men to win the Civil War? McFeely uses few resources to answer that directly, instead choosing to opine. Maybe there's documentation that supports his conclusions, but they're not presented in the book itself. No quotes from Grant saying what McFeely says he believed. It gets much worse during Grant's presidency, and McFeely treats Grant like some sort of unknowable titan from thousands of years before instead of a man who had died a century before and actually wrote quite a bit about himself in his time. Essentially, I found the analysis thin and unconvincing, while I found the details of Grant's life admirably assembled.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Missmath144

    Grant's brilliant war moves (and a few not so brilliant) were political maneuverings on his part. A failure before and after the war, the war years were the time he really felt alive. If he had been a true believer in what the Civil War had brought about, Reconstruction could have been more successful and humane. But he stood firm for few beliefs.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Grant

    My issue with this book is McFeely's heavy-handed, psychological analysis of the subject, his family, and associates. We know that good history or biography has the author's interpretations, but we get too much McFeely showing off and missing the essence of the subject.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Michael Walker

    I've read a couple Civil War books and two bios of Grant, and this one is the best of the bunch on the man, in my humble opinion. The book won a Pulitzer, the readability "stamp of approval" for me.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Beth

    3.5 stars

  19. 4 out of 5

    Alan

    McFeely comments that “once more, Ulysses Grant did not get quite to the top” while describing a hike Ulysses S. Grant and his entourage took while on tour in Italy (465). The “once again” is undefined but seems a curious comment to make for the Union’s top General in the Civil War who went on to serve two terms as United States President. Reflecting on Grant’s life, it seems that rather than not rising high enough, he rose a bit too high. While unquestionably a competent military commander, Gra McFeely comments that “once more, Ulysses Grant did not get quite to the top” while describing a hike Ulysses S. Grant and his entourage took while on tour in Italy (465). The “once again” is undefined but seems a curious comment to make for the Union’s top General in the Civil War who went on to serve two terms as United States President. Reflecting on Grant’s life, it seems that rather than not rising high enough, he rose a bit too high. While unquestionably a competent military commander, Grant was not prepared to deal with powerful political personalities as his nation’s chief executive. He began his final State of the Union message admitting that he had become President “without any previous political training” and with almost no previous political involvement. Grant’s Presidency was recognized as corrupt by late in his second term. Much of this corruption was perpetrated by certain of his cabinet members. Grant, at the end of his Presidency, describes what seems to have been the core of the problem, claiming that mistakes of his administration were “oftener in the selections made of the assistants appointed to aid in carrying out the various duties of administering the Government” (442). Grant described the problematic administrators as “in nearly every case … selected without [his:] personal acquaintance” (442). This liability is not merely a result of lack of political experience but was in evidence during Grant’s time at West Point Academy: “Grant had no instinct [n:]or capacity for cultivating useful people, and those who had such inclinations did not find him worthy of their efforts. However, the parade of personalities did not escape his notice; Grant took in more than people realized, and he remembered things about men who … never noticed him at all. What he retained was not a sense of how to make these men useful to him, but rather a feeling for their capacities” (20). Perhaps if Grant had spent time in the political circles of Washington D.C., he could have made astute observations and chosen more wisely who he would entrust with responsibility. McFeely doesn’t offer much assessment of what Grant did or didn’t know regarding the corruption and discussion of the Grants’ financial troubles leaves the impression that he certainly didn’t benefit much financially. An analysis of the corruption of the Grant administration in comparison with other U.S. Presidencies is not provided in this biography. A theme that McFeely emphasizes throughout is Grant’s fundamental insecurity—manifest in his always attempting to demonstrate that he was one of the upper class. The son of a tanner, Grant rose far above those his family would have been associated with in Grant’s youth. McFeely describes Grant was always conscious of the potential to fall from the societal esteem that he had obtained: “[o:]ne of the great and powerful now Ulysses Grant had forded his river. He was not, if he could help it, going to swim in treacherous common waters again” (240). This, more than a desire for policy change, explains Grant’s desire for the presidency after the Civil War ended and again after Grant had been president for 8 years. Today’s readers are much more likely to be interested in Grant’s Civil War experiences than in his trip around the world after his presidency but, there are substantive policy discussions such as of the uphill battle, that Grant refused to, and perhaps politically could not, vigorously fight, for black folks’ rights in the south; regarding Grant’s interesting idea of annexing the Dominican Republic so that black citizens could have a refuge from abuse in a state of their own and concerning monetary policy during the economic depression of 1873-79 for which Grant seems to have been unprepared to deal with. McFeely makes a few comments on how Grant’s policies shaped the Republican Party, which makes sense given that he was only the second president elected under that banner. McFeely cannot be blamed for describing the lack of excitement in Grant’s life after the Civil War. Grant was a man fit for a moment not a man for all seasons.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Aaron Million

    Fairly thorough, if not sometimes caustic, biography about the Civil War General and two term Republican President. McFeely seems to engage in quite a bit of psychology throughout the book - trying to explain Grant's actions and words as him attempting to be someone who mattered or who had been able to be successful at life. While I am sure there is some truth to that, any person can be subjected to that kind of scrutiny and be made to look as if he or she is attempting to fulfill or conquer som Fairly thorough, if not sometimes caustic, biography about the Civil War General and two term Republican President. McFeely seems to engage in quite a bit of psychology throughout the book - trying to explain Grant's actions and words as him attempting to be someone who mattered or who had been able to be successful at life. While I am sure there is some truth to that, any person can be subjected to that kind of scrutiny and be made to look as if he or she is attempting to fulfill or conquer some deep, inner psychological impulse or desire. Example: on Grant's around the world trip in the late 1870s, he and his party want to travel to the top of Mt. Vesuvius but are unable to get there. McFeely declares that, once again, Grant did not quite make it to the top. Hmm. I think that might be reading too much into something that was extremely difficult to do. The overall portrait that McFeely paints is not a pretty one, but I do think - that psychoanalysis aside - it is an accurate one. While to say that Grant was a "butcher" in the Civil War might be unfair, he certainly did use his overwhelmingly troop strength and supply to his advantage. The two most disappointing things that I found: 1) Grant and Robert E. Lee bickering back and forth about notes of surrender when many men on both sides lay in the fields dying and in desperate need of medical care; 2) his obvious lack of concern with how blacks were being treated in the South during Reconstruction. Grant seemed to be me to be a man of somewhat limited means who, by good fortune mixed with some skill and luck, came into positions of power. His wife Julia comes across as an uppity snob, his children as somewhat spoiled and disregarding of others, and Grant himself was greatly hobbled during his presidency because he refused to address the rampant corruption that gutted his administration. He deserves to be ranked as one of the worst presidents. His standing as a great general is more secure, yet can be questioned on many levels (Cold Harbor being one of them). This is a well-written book. McFeely does a great job describing Grant's experiences in the Mexican War, his generalship during the Civil War, and his disappointing presidency. I would have liked to have seen more written about his attempt at a third term in 1880 and how it was denied him at the Republican National Convention, and also more about why his tomb is where it is.

  21. 4 out of 5

    David Hill

    I'm working my way through whole-life biographies of US presidents. A good friend recommended, when I go to Grant, that I read his memoirs. After a bit of research, I decided to read McFeely's book instead because Grant's memoirs don't include his presidential years. I will get around to reading Grant's memoirs one of these days, though, as I often hear them regarded as one of the great works about the Civil War. This book pretty much hit the sweet spot in my requirements when it come I'm working my way through whole-life biographies of US presidents. A good friend recommended, when I go to Grant, that I read his memoirs. After a bit of research, I decided to read McFeely's book instead because Grant's memoirs don't include his presidential years. I will get around to reading Grant's memoirs one of these days, though, as I often hear them regarded as one of the great works about the Civil War. This book pretty much hit the sweet spot in my requirements when it comes to presidential biographies. I want to read about the whole life of the subject, not just the years he was president. I understand the tendency for an author to be sympathetic to the subject, particularly after close study, but I'd like to find a book that is neither hagiographic nor condemnatory. And I'd like a biography to be scholarly - well organized, well noted, with a bibliography. Finally, it should be well written and easy to read. McFeely's book succeeds, for me, on all these points. Before reading this, I was a blank slate regarding Grant. I knew no more than that he was a General, a president, and on the $50 bill. Now, after this book, I wonder why he's on the 50. He really wasn't very good at anything, other than being a General and writing his memoirs. I can think of a few presidents more worthy of being on our currency. Anyway, anybody looking for a good book about the man should consider this one.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Susan Barsy

    History through biography: McFeely's telling of Grant's life-story is also a tour through mid-19th century American history--through the Mexican War, the harrowing course of the Civil War, and the dubious dawn of the "Gilded Age" afterward. More than any other book, this one conveys how gruesome the Civil War was and how Grant's remarkable abilities as a writer, commander, and strategist brought about change in how war was to be waged. The closing chapters of the book, dealing with Gr History through biography: McFeely's telling of Grant's life-story is also a tour through mid-19th century American history--through the Mexican War, the harrowing course of the Civil War, and the dubious dawn of the "Gilded Age" afterward. More than any other book, this one conveys how gruesome the Civil War was and how Grant's remarkable abilities as a writer, commander, and strategist brought about change in how war was to be waged. The closing chapters of the book, dealing with Grant's illness from throat cancer and his determination, in the face of impending death, to write his memoirs and so lift his family from penury, make for unforgettable reading. He was one of the greatest Americans.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Beverly

    This is my first Grant biography and my knowledge of Grant is limited (which is why I read this book), but I thought it was a pretty good read. It is not a military history, but rather McFeely's attempt to get inside the head of General Grant. That's a tough task and this book has a negative tone at times where the author goes a bit overboard in his psychoanalysis. I much prefer books where the author's biases are hard to spot. Nevertheless it is well written and does give you a feel for who Gra This is my first Grant biography and my knowledge of Grant is limited (which is why I read this book), but I thought it was a pretty good read. It is not a military history, but rather McFeely's attempt to get inside the head of General Grant. That's a tough task and this book has a negative tone at times where the author goes a bit overboard in his psychoanalysis. I much prefer books where the author's biases are hard to spot. Nevertheless it is well written and does give you a feel for who Grant was as a person. The book won the Pulitzer Prize in 1982, but that was a while ago and there might be a better biography out there now. I would recommend this book if you are more interested in the person than the war. You won't be bored with a lot blood and gore.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Peter Sprunger

    This was an excellently written biography. Of the Presidential biographies I've read so far, this one was the best. McFeely is neither for or against Grant and he portrays him as a person with faults that anyone can relate too. He had a drinking problem, did not understand finances, desired to be in the limelight, and was too trusting. On the other hand he understood the purpose of war better than any of his other contemporaries, which along with his ability to organize, allowed him to be (one o This was an excellently written biography. Of the Presidential biographies I've read so far, this one was the best. McFeely is neither for or against Grant and he portrays him as a person with faults that anyone can relate too. He had a drinking problem, did not understand finances, desired to be in the limelight, and was too trusting. On the other hand he understood the purpose of war better than any of his other contemporaries, which along with his ability to organize, allowed him to be (one of) the most successful Civil War generals. His ability to communicate with anyone regardless of their status allowed him to be extremely popular. McFeely demonstrates all of his qualities by documenting Grant's actions (or in-actions) in this very readable biography.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

    It seems that Grant’s downfall as president was his inability to transition from being a general in the military, where every order is followed, to a political leader, where every order is debated and often not followed. He never seemed to grasp this. It’s a wonder he even wanted to run for second term, let alone try for a third. Like W, he also didn’t seem to have any “deep thoughts” or long term agenda. And he surrounded himself with friends and long time companions as advisors. Kind of tragic It seems that Grant’s downfall as president was his inability to transition from being a general in the military, where every order is followed, to a political leader, where every order is debated and often not followed. He never seemed to grasp this. It’s a wonder he even wanted to run for second term, let alone try for a third. Like W, he also didn’t seem to have any “deep thoughts” or long term agenda. And he surrounded himself with friends and long time companions as advisors. Kind of tragic, actually. He could have used all that good will to positive effect, like helping the Indians and ex-slaves, but he let it all dribble away. There’s too much detail in the book, which seems to be a common problem of biographers. But good info and good insight into politics of the era.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Meg

    Okay, I need to state up-front that I was a bit biased going into this book. The author's son is the head of my company. That said, though, I cannot state how often I stopped for a moment in my reading to reflect upon why this book was so deserving of its Pulitzer Prize. Throughout the book, McFeely presents just the right amount of extra analysis. This takes the book from being your average "he went here, he did this" biography to something far greater. He put it all into context and taught his Okay, I need to state up-front that I was a bit biased going into this book. The author's son is the head of my company. That said, though, I cannot state how often I stopped for a moment in my reading to reflect upon why this book was so deserving of its Pulitzer Prize. Throughout the book, McFeely presents just the right amount of extra analysis. This takes the book from being your average "he went here, he did this" biography to something far greater. He put it all into context and taught his readers why it mattered. This book was one of my favorite Presidential biographies this year and I would even read it again.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Key

    Mcfeely does a great covering the entire life of U S. Grant, and beyond. I had heard many about the General and President, however his big picture contributions to our country puts him up there as one of our great presidents. Sure he had flaws and made mistakes, but his leadership during the largest turmoil our country has ever seen. He was a magnificent war leader and a great president following. He into reconstruction. He was champion in civil rights for the time, he was very instrumental in t Mcfeely does a great covering the entire life of U S. Grant, and beyond. I had heard many about the General and President, however his big picture contributions to our country puts him up there as one of our great presidents. Sure he had flaws and made mistakes, but his leadership during the largest turmoil our country has ever seen. He was a magnificent war leader and a great president following. He into reconstruction. He was champion in civil rights for the time, he was very instrumental in the countries expansion, and did all he could for the American Indians. He has earned my respect as a great president, husband, and leader of men.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kelley

    The author speaks highly of Grant as a military commander, fully grasping the military and political implications of the American Civil War. The author has a very low opinion of Grant as a politician and President of the United States; feeling that Grant was too expedient in his political decisions and too concerned with loosing popularity to make the difficult decisions concerning Reconstruction, the Indian Wars, and race relations. Ultimately McFeely feels that Grant had to become President be The author speaks highly of Grant as a military commander, fully grasping the military and political implications of the American Civil War. The author has a very low opinion of Grant as a politician and President of the United States; feeling that Grant was too expedient in his political decisions and too concerned with loosing popularity to make the difficult decisions concerning Reconstruction, the Indian Wars, and race relations. Ultimately McFeely feels that Grant had to become President because he was woefully equipped to become anything else. The 19th Century Peter Principle personified.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Dale

    Thirty-four years ago I bought this book in Fremont, Nebraska. I sat it on a pile of books for my pleasure within the near future. Well today I finally finished it. Not for any other reason that it just took me that long to pick it up. The book is a story of a man's life from poverty to riches; from failure to triumph, and from humilittion to glorification. Grant was a great leader is a horrible war but very incompetent as a leader of a nation. We can definitely learn much of how to be a better Thirty-four years ago I bought this book in Fremont, Nebraska. I sat it on a pile of books for my pleasure within the near future. Well today I finally finished it. Not for any other reason that it just took me that long to pick it up. The book is a story of a man's life from poverty to riches; from failure to triumph, and from humilittion to glorification. Grant was a great leader is a horrible war but very incompetent as a leader of a nation. We can definitely learn much of how to be a better manager in than Grant. And I hope never having to pick up a gun but the book teaches what it means to lead a nation in war if you are going to do it and win.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Chris Lopez-cepero

    The presidency of Ulysses S. Grant is one of the greatest disappointments in American history, a disappointment not just noted dispassionately but intensely felt by that generation of Americans. Its palpable presence in some other books I've read--especially 'The Education of Henry Adams'--drew me to a closer look at Grant and his life. Ultimately, Grant is an historical figure of immense contradictions. McFeely is perceptive enough to portray those contradictions in sharp relief, but The presidency of Ulysses S. Grant is one of the greatest disappointments in American history, a disappointment not just noted dispassionately but intensely felt by that generation of Americans. Its palpable presence in some other books I've read--especially 'The Education of Henry Adams'--drew me to a closer look at Grant and his life. Ultimately, Grant is an historical figure of immense contradictions. McFeely is perceptive enough to portray those contradictions in sharp relief, but I closed the book wanting a more cogent resolution of those contradictions, some answer to the enigma of fabulous success coupled with pathetic failure. McFeely's attempt in this area falls well short.

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