Book Recommendation: Grant by Ron Chernow
This majestic work (960) pages) has to be considered the definitive biography of General Grant. Chernow does not shy away from Grant’s major flaws of alcoholism and trusting far too many people who betrayed his trust. The first he conquered. Though it was over-blown by his political enemies, by the time he was president, Grant had defeated alcohol. The second bedeviled him to the end, making the Grant presidency a by-word for corruption, though in the gilded age, as now, corruption was rampant everywhere. It haunted him to the end of his life, when he and his family and friends trusted a Wall Street flimflam man who was running a Ponzi scheme that left him close to destitute. He then fought his bravest battle against cancer, holding it off until he could complete his memoirs to be sure he left his family comfortable.
I expected to be most interested in his service to the Republic in the Civil War. I had courses in the war while working on my masters and history, and have read extensively on it ever since. But I learned a great deal from this book. Reading this book, you will understand why the great British military historian, the late Sir John Keagan called Grant, “The greatest general of the Civil War.” Grant’s generosity to the defeated confederates, including his attempt to secure a pardon for Robert E. Lee, made him beloved not only in the North, but in the south where his efforts went a long way to end sectional hate. Many Confederate generals attended Grant’s funeral. I think he would not have approved of the present attempts to obliterate history by destroying statutes.
But I learned even more from the years of his presidency and his part in reconstruction, which was far better than the common misperception. Grant appointed more black citizens to public office and did more to secure black rights than any president until modern times. He used the military to break the KKK and was loved and respected by black citizens. Taking on this massive book is a project, but it will educate you in aspects of our history with which you are unfamiliar, and which bear on our problems today. I recommend it without reservation.