Ulysses S. Grant is a name that resonates with just about every American. A Civil War general and later President of the United States, his name is most often touted alongside some of the other great names that resounds through American history, like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Unlike those two, however, Grant's name has been mired and tarnished owing to the circumstances of the era he lived in. Many Lost Cause adherents have derided him as a drunken butcher, who only brought a Northern victory about in the Civil War because of the nigh-unlimited bodies and resources he had at his fingertips, and have held him up as wanting compared to the 'gallant genius' of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
In more recent decades, however, there has been a growing movement to restore Grant's reputation, to shine a light on his genuine military skill and success, as well as his fervent belief and commitment to equality for the African Americans freed from slavery in the Civil War and through the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and his own personal integrity. Ron Chernow is but one part of this movement, and he wrote an outstandingly well-researched account of this long-misunderstood man.
A well-researched, long account, but do not let its length deter you. Over a thousand pages (or 38 CDs, if you choose that format), and each one as engrossing as the next. Chernow's efforts cover the entire breadth of Grant's life, from his childhood to his first military career, from his woe-begotten days working various menial jobs to his reenlistment on the outbreak of the Civil War, from his rise to prominence as a General who fought against the Confederacy and won (something that was not exactly a normal sight in the early years of the war) to becoming the leader of the entirety of all Union forces that would lead down the road to Appomattox Courthouse and end the war, to his involvement in politics and rise to the Presidency, and to the later years of his life amid the pomp and circumstance of the Gilded Age. Chernow brings all of it to life. He highlights Grant's many successes, both as a general and a politician, but he does not flinch from writing about his failures, many of which stem from his own innate goodness and desire to think well of the people closest to him, no matter how undeserving so many of those people were.
I was engrossed with this book from start to finish. Chernow's style is very easy to stick with, and Mark Bramhall's narration was perfectly on-point. I learned so much about Grant. I had some familiarity with him before reading it, mostly of his military years, but I knew very little about his early life, or his Presidency other than it had been rife with scandal. But Chernow did a wonderful job exploring Grant's presidency in particular, reminding the reader that Grant did a great deal of good during this time, even amid the scandals that also rocked his administration on multiple occasions.
I highly recommend this book. Whether you choose a print copy or an audio, you will learn about one of the most fascinating yet misunderstood figures in American History, and you will enjoy every bit of it.