Book Review: Grant by Jean Edward Smith

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Let me start this off by saying that Grant happens to be my favorite President. It’s not because of any of the great things he accomplished but rather because he had the courage to do what so many people do not. He was able to fail. He was able to dust himself off and try again. Grant was flawed, yes, but Grant was able to overcome his failures. He had the courage to keep trying. Ulysses Grant had the tenacity to keep moving forward even when things were at their roughest.

Grant by Jean Edward Smith gives a fair and balanced accounting of both the General and the President’s story. But the author does a particularly good job in recounting the presidency of Grant. He gives it a reappraisal and while he doesn’t ignore the problems and corruption in the administration he is able to shed light on the aspects that previously had been ignored such as the Grant administrations dealings with Native Americans and Reconstruction.

This book was well written and kept my attention the whole way through. The author is able to keep his text easily readable and does not weigh it down with jargon. I was particularly surprised with how well the battle scenes were written. They were easily understandable without being overly detailed. But the author does not shy away from telling what happened either.

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The only thing I think the author could have really expanded on was the Grants’ world tour. It was absolutely fascinating reading about all the different places that Grant went like England, but also places like Japan and China. But this leads me to another slight drawback: the book ended super quickly. The book was detailed throughout the civil war and presidency but afterward, it becomes much less detailed. I found this slightly disappointing, but it is understandable, as most people reading would be looking for information about his military career or his presidency.

What sets this book apart from other Grant biographies is how the author takes a look at why people have come to believe that the Grant presidency was unsuccessful. Especially, when you look at how Grant was viewed by the public during his lifetime, after his funeral, and the fact that he was elected not once but twice. So Grant’s contemporaries tended to like him, but why do we see him as a drunken butcher? The author explains this well and in doing so has made me question how much of history is distorted by the people who are considered the “authority.” Obviously, we all have our biases but how much do these biases interfere with the supposed “facts” we are writing.

Overall, I thought this was a great book for anyone looking to learn more about one our most underestimated presidents. This was a new look at the Grant presidency and gave a fantastic recounting of Grant’s time in the civil war.

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