cover image Grant


Ron Chernow. Penguin Press, $40 (1,104p) ISBN 978-1-59420-487-6

Acclaimed biographer Chernow, winner of a Pulitzer Prize for Washington: A Life, entertains in this informative whopper as he upends the long-held view of Ulysses S. Grant (1822–1885) as a lumbering general and incompetent president. An unhappy Army officer who resigned his commission in 1854, Grant was reduced to clerking in his father's dry-goods store when President Lincoln called for volunteers in 1861. Bolstered by his West Point background and enthusiastic support from his congressman, Grant reentered service and quickly rose to brigadier general. In February 1862, he won the first great Union victory by capturing forts Henry and Donelson. Thrilled by Grant's victories at Vicksburg and Chattanooga, Lincoln made him commanding general of the Union Army. Chernow contrasts Grant's awareness of the tasks required to win the war with opponent Robert E. Lee's comparative shortsightedness. Discussing Grant's presidency (1869–1877), Chernow discloses the admiration he received from contemporary black leaders for his efforts during Reconstruction, even though it collapsed due to continued white intransigence. Similarly, pressure from whites undermined Grant's well-intentioned Indian policy, leading to the Sioux Wars. Throughout his life, Grant was bad with money and a constant target of hucksters. Chernow spares few details, but Grant was a complex, mostly admirable figure, and this may become the definitive biography for the foreseeable future. Agent: Melanie Jackson, Melanie Jackson Agency. (Oct.)