"...any politician contemplating the use of force should read Grant before doing so." - Michael Korda This is my third in the James Atlas (general editor) and HarperCollins' Eminent Lives series dealing with American presidents. Why, when James Atlas was putting together this series, did he pick three public intellectuals who were born in Great Britain and educated at Oxford to write about Washington (Paul Johnson), Jefferson (Christopher Hitchens, and Grant (Michael Korda)? It was too short to give much detail or depth into the most interesting aspects of Grant's life (the Mexican War, the Civil War, his presidency, scandals, the writing of his memoirs, etc), but was long enough to make an argument about why Grant is currently under appreciated as an American. His memoir seems a fitting epilogue to America's greatest General, the man who isn't buried in Grant's Tomb.
National hero though he may be, it turns out it wasnt all that easy being Ulysses S. The problem was, Papa Grant was a tanner, meaning the crux of the family trade involved the bloody process of skinning and handling the hide of the farm animals of which Ulysses was so fond. Like a lot of presidents, it seems, Grants name as we now know it metamorphosed from its original form (Hiram Ulysses Grant). When you show up to West Point, it turns out that having the initials H.U.G. is not ideal, so Grant was happy enough to go along with a registrars error that had his first name listed as Ulysses and his second initial as "S" for his mothers maiden name, Simpson.
Ron Chernow's is likely to be the most pre-eminent, but William McFeely's Grant:A Biography and Ronald White's American Ulysses are also rather well-known among many others and the man wrote a memoir his self, so there's plenty of places to go. This is a very quick read, but I like Korda's takes and light style. The distinguished white haired general in his sharp buttoned up jacket is still a cult of personality (read some recent headlines) while our image of Grant is dumpy and plain. At the end of the day, Lee was a great general, but Grant was the better one. -Korda ends the book with a fantastic metaphor of Grant as his generation's Eisenhower. I would be likely to pick up Korda's longer books on Lee and Eisenhower, and I certainly could see myself going back to the Eminent Lives series.
Other than that however, with so many better Grant biographies to choose from, I don't really see any purpose for this book. However he did include pointless and often insulting descriptions of several of the women he includes in his narrative, as well as wild assumptions about the character and mood of people based on a single still life photograph. Curiously I cannot recall a single instance where the author included such extensive descriptions of Grant or other males included in the narrative. In addition to the above, in several places, the author makes unwarranted assumptions about the demeanor, mood and even the character of people based on a single black and white photograph. There is no evidence that I know of that backs up the author's description of Grant's demeanor in this photograph. The author correctly notes that Grant refused to send troops into Mississippi in 1875 to protect blacks against an increase in violent intimidation. As perhaps the foremost historian on the Reconstruction era, Michael Foner, notes however, this "reflected the broader Northern retreat from Reconstruction and its ideal of racial equality." Korda, misleadingly uses this one incident to represent the entirety of Grants policy towards freedmen. The motto emblazoned on Grant's tomb in New York City says simply "Let Us Have Peace." In a far superior biography of Grant, author H.W. Brands correctly notes that this relfected not only Grant's desire for a reunification of the country, but also his desire for the complete application of the war's main aims, a restoration of the union and the full emancipation of the slaves.
Korda provides concise but good descriptions of Grant's experiences and decision-making in the Vicksburg campaign, the battle in the Wilderness, the siege of Petersburg, and the Confederate surrender at Appomattox.
When I saw this book, I wanted to read it because I had enjoyed reading the George Washington book which gave me more insight into the presidents life before and after his presidentcy. That is also what I had learned once I had finished reading the book on Ulysses S. I enjoyed this specific event because Beyonce was this stupid to try and criticise the memory of Grant by having half naked women dancing on his monument. I enjoyed this mainly because people didn't let Beyonce do this to Grants monument.
Korda delves past those elements a bit, highlights little-known incidents (Santo Domingo, averting war with Britain in the 1870s) in a readable way.
In my opinion, if we had a general like Ulysses S. You see, if we had generals like Grant, we would be winning wars yearly.
I think this is an evenhanded biography of Grant.