Great writer. I couldn't put his book down.
A sign of a good book is that you are sorry to see it end. A second sign is that it whets your appetite to learn more about the subject. A third sign, peculiar to biographies, is that you wish you would have had an opportunity to meet the subject and maybe enjoy a long conversation over lunch. American Ulysses, Ronald White’s biography of the famed Civil War general and the 18th President of the United States passes all of these tests with flying colours. Before reading the book, all I knew of Grant was his reputation as an uninspiring commander who used superior manpower with little regard to casualties, and the rumours of his heavy drinking (a well-known anecdote has someone complain to Lincoln about Grant’s drinking, with the President replying, “find out what he drinks and send a case to each of my other generals.”) As it turns out, I didn’t even know that. Through these pages, Grant is revealed as a careful thinker, a decisive general, a thoughtful strategist and a generous victor. Beginning as more or less neutral on the matter of slavery – as a soldier his role was to support the policies of the Union – his conviction that slavery was wrong grew stronger over time and made him an uncompromising foe of the institution. As President, he used the powers of his office to promote post-war reconciliation and to oppose the rise of the Ku Klux Klan (effectively crushing it until its return in the 20th century), even when doing so but him at odds with colleagues who urged a softer approach to maintain the Republican hold on the White House. Possessed of an open and inquisitive mind, Grant saw the entrenchment of civil rights for all citizens – and humane treatment of aboriginal people – as being necessary for the health of the United States. No less a figure than Frederick Douglass said of Grant “that he was the first of our generals to see that slavery must perish that the Union might live …. The black soldier was welcome on his tent, and the freedman in his house.” Until the beginning of the 20th Century, Grant was seen as being one of the greatest of American presidents, sharing the triumvirate with Washington and Lincoln. Today he is ranked poorly. White’s book makes a strong case for his rehabilitation.
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