Book Review: “Grant” by Ron Chernow

Ron Chernow is an award-winning biographer, having explored the lives of George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and John D. Rockefeller, among others.

There are other books on the life of Ulysses S. Grant, but Chernow’s biography restores Grant to his rightful place in the pantheon of American history: a fearless leader, a master strategist and tactician, and the person who almost single-handedly held the country together after the Civil War.

Too many Grant biographers paint the picture of him as a drunkard who relied on far superior numbers of men and material to defeat the South.

Chernow acknowledges that Grant struggled with alcoholism at times, especially when he was lonely, bored, and away from his wife and family.  However, more importantly, Grant was able to overcome his alcoholism, despite ever-present temptations, through sheer will and the help of his wife and longtime chief of staff.

Regarding the argument that Grant relied on numbers to win the war, Chernow reminds us that the South was fighting on their own land, with entrenched positions, and a pro-slavery population aiding them. The author also points out that six generals preceded Grant and none could defeat Robert E. Lee and the South, even though they enjoyed the same advantages.

Grant was also masterful at understanding human motivation.  He never celebrated a victory or disrespected his foe.  As the Civil War drew to an end, Grant knew Robert E. Lee would not surrender unless given amnesty, which he offered Lee to the dismay of many Northerners but with much respect from the Southerners.

If you have any interest in American history, the Civil War, Reconstruction, politics, military strategy, or presidents, this book is a must read.  One of the best-written books I have read and a real page-turner, even at its length.

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