American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant

Ronald C. White Jr. Random House, $35 (880p) ISBN 978-1-4000-6902-6
Concerned that Grant, a Civil War general and two-term U.S. president, “has slipped from our American memory,” White (A. Lincoln), a historian and fellow at the Huntington Library, has crafted an exhaustive biography that offers a reevaluation of Grant’s life. Presenting Grant as “exceptional,” White excels at depicting the public man: his life as a soldier, as a businessman, as a politician. The author’s style is fluid and engaging, which makes this behemoth a page-turner. His mastery of history is clear on every page. Yet the eight years of Grant’s presidency receive far less attention than his four years of Civil War service, which suggests that Grant was less exceptional at the former than the latter. Also, White periodically includes details that come across as extraneous, though military aficionados will revel in the painstaking battle recreations. And he’s less successful in describing Grant’s private life. Critical of other biographies for shortchanging Julia Dent Grant, White doesn’t do much better. She and their children remain in the background, woven in as brief asides. It’s the same with religion, which seemed to matter to Grant—but exactly how isn’t clear. Impressive for its breadth, if not always its depth, White’s is a remarkable biography of a remarkable life. Maps & illus. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 07/18/2016
Release date: 10/04/2016
Genre: Nonfiction
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