Top positive review
A review of Grant's life
Reviewed in the United States on June 1, 2015
This book is a well written historical narrative the covers the life of U.S. Grant from childhood until his death of cancer in 1885. Unlike so many other biographies of Grant, which focus almost exclusively on his war years, H. W. Brands looks at the totality of the former general and president’s life.
Naturally, any biography on Grant has to devote a significant portion of the book to his Civil War years since it was his leadership and generalship, from the Battle of Belmont through Appomattox that created and cemented his reputation as a military great. Brands tells this story by interweaving battlefield events, and the politics of senior leadership, with the story of Grant. This method tells both the story of Grant and the war, and how the two were related.
At the same time, it was his war years that created the conditions for him to become a two-term president, with only his modesty preventing a third. Yet at the same time his presidency and the years following his years in office, can be seen as an extension of his wartime leadership as he sought to solidify what had been won. He fought for the civil rights of the recently freed slaves under the 14th and 15th amendments from the perspective that after all the blood had been shed it would have been for nothing if African Americans had been returned to their former status in reality if not in law.
Obviously any book has to address the war years and his presidency, but Brands also addresses Grant’s upbringing, his early military career in the Mexican-American War and on the west coast, his near failure as a businessman before the Civil War, his post war years as the head of the US military, his peace efforts with Native Americans, and his time after the presidency. Brands paints a picture of a modest man with a great deal of integrity who won the war for the north, and worked extremely hard to preserve the peace. It can almost be argued that winning the war was easy, winning the peace was not; something for which Grant has been given little recognition.
I definitely recommend this book. It’s easy to read, addresses Grant’s life, decisions, successes and failures, and includes a brief review of how historians’ have changed their views of Grant since his death.