cover image Ulysses S. Grant: Soldier & President

Ulysses S. Grant: Soldier & President

Geoffrey Perret. Random House (NY), $35 (542pp) ISBN 978-0-679-44766-5

Perret (Old Soldiers Never Die) regards Grant as the greatest soldier the U.S. has ever seen, and believes that his greatness has been obscured because of the lack of drama in his life. Unlike William Sherman, Grant did not suffer a nervous breakdown midway through the Civil War; unlike Robert E. Lee, he had no crisis of conscience over where his loyalties belonged. He was happily and conventionally married. Even his vices were undramatic: he was a sloppy drunk rather than a brooding alcoholic. Yet Perret's Grant is anything but ordinary. He emerges here as a rustic romantic who never settled down, but instead found his vital center in his personal relationships and in his own sense of identity. Grant was an unobtrusive master of the theory, history and craft of war, but he was unconcerned with showing off his knowledge for his own advantage. Grant knew who he was, and for him that was enough, although this inner directedness made it difficult for even close friends and associates to understand him. At times, Perret overstates his case, arguing that Grant was surrounded by dimwits and lackeys instead of the solid personal and professional supporters that in fact enabled his military talents. Perret's relentless stressing of Grant's wisdom results in an overly sympathetic biography. On balance, however, this volume stands among the finest comprehensive treatments of the man who did more than anyone except Lincoln to restore the Union. Photos not seen by PW. (Sept.)