One of the first two volumes in Harper's Eminent Lives series, Korda brings his acclaimed storytelling talents to the life of Ulysses S. Grant - a man who managed to end the Civil War on a note of grace, serve two terms as president, write one of the most successful military memoirs in American literature, and is today remembered as a brilliant general but a failed president.
Ulysses S. Grant was the first officer since George Washington to become a four-star general in the United States Army, and the only president between Andrew Jackson and Woodrow Wilson to serve eight consecutive years in the White House. In this succinct and vivid biography, Michael Korda considers Grant's character and reconciles the conflicting evaluations of his leadership abilities.
Grant's life played out as a true Horatio Alger story. Despite his humble background as the son of a tanner in Ohio, his lack of early success in the army, and assorted failed business ventures, his unwavering determination propelled him through the ranks of military leadership and into the presidency. But while the general's tenacity and steadfastness contributed to his success on the battlefield, it both aided and crippled his effectiveness in the White House.
Assessing Grant both within the context of his time and in contrast to more recent American leaders, Korda casts a benevolent eye on Grant's presidency while at the same time conceding his weaknesses. He suggests that though the general's second term ended in financial and political scandals, the fact remains that for eight years Grant exerted a calming influence on a country that had only just emerged from a horrendous civil war. Ulysses S. Grant is an even-handed and stirring portrait of a man who guided America through a pivotal juncture in its history.
This little book will inevitably be compared with Josiah Bunting's similarly short biography of one of the world's greatest military figures (Forecasts, June 14). The marriage of author and subject works well, although Korda (Horse People: Scenes from the Riding Life, etc.) doesn't have much new to say about Lincoln's favorite general. That's not surprising, since everyone now writes about Grant in the shadow of Edmund Wilson, who gave new fame to Grant's memoirs, and William McFeely, who has written the best full biography to date. Even so, Korda freshly characterizes his man without psychologizing an unpromising subject. Grant was, after all, unyieldingly stolid and tight-lipped. While his qualities of directness and taciturnity made him a great general, they didn't yield up a fascinating man or a great president. Korda does about as good a job of bringing Grant to life as possible and handles all the essential set pieces-Grant as Mexican War officer, Civil War general, president and author of masterful memoirs on the eve of his death-with much skill. He's less perceptive than Bunting about Grant's presidency and occasionally puts unnecessary erudition on display, but on the whole this is a highly readable, accurate study of the man. (Oct. 1) FYI: This title launches the new Eminent Lives series, edited by James Atlas. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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September 27, 2004
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