Ulysses S. Grant, Civil War general and two-term president, has been the subject of much historical scholarship, with historians often awarding Grant higher praise for his military than his political career. In this extremely sympathetic portrait, Pulitzer finalist Brands (Dickson Allen Anderson Professor of History, Univ. of Texas at Austin; Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt) treats Grant's entire life, showing its full arc. He breaks with earlier interpretations to give Grant good marks for his presidential leadership, concluding that Grant did the best he could in trying circumstances, particularly in the area of civil and minority rights. VERDICT This is a well-researched and comprehensive study—much broader in scope than, e.g., Edward H. Bonekemper's Ulysses S. Grant: A Victor, Not a Butcher: The Military Genius of the Man Who Won the Civil War—as well as an engaging book. Essential for both popular readers and scholars. [See Prepub Alert, 4/16/12.]—Theresa McDevitt, Indiana Univ. of Pennsylvania Libs.,
An unabashed admirer of the great Civil War general portrays the most unlikely, reluctant American hero since George Washington. While there are moments of frustrating small-picture detail to veteran biographer Brands' (The Heartbreak of Aaron Burr, 2012, etc.) book, his portrayal of his subject's essential humanity proves truly compelling. The author sticks to Grant's own words, through letters and contemporary records, rather than relying on what later historians wrote. Since Grant was so unassuming and unprepossessing, this can be a torturous exercise. From his initial reluctance to consider himself a candidate for West Point, to his taking up farming in Illinois and business out of desperation to support a growing family, largely relying on filial indulgence and always uncomfortable managing his wife's slaves, Grant never displayed a sense of self-confidence, except in handling horses. The breakout of the war saved Grant from drifting, and he was soon swept up in preparing his local militia in Galena, Ill., where he was employed in his family's business. In his methodical fashion, Brands shows how Grant's quiet proficiency continually caught the attention of his superiors. His ability to organize, discipline and inspire his men gained him swift promotions and earned him accolades in a series of signal battles, especially Vicksburg. Though President Lincoln doubted some of his strategies, Grant was the general that Lincoln needed ("[H]e makes things git! Where he is, things move!" Lincoln declared), and with William Sherman as Grant's right-arm scourge, the Rebels were ground into the sea. Brands also considers Grant's reputation for drinking, his deep devotion to his wife, his aversion to speechmaking and politics and his moral center. A direct, engaging approach to Grant's life that would have pleased him.
Praise for The Man Who Saved the Union
“Through Grant, Mr. Brands paints a vivid landscape of mid-19th-century America filling his canvas with fascinating characters . . . Mr. Brands's prose is engaging, almost conversational, and the narrative moves briskly.”
—The Wall Street Journal
"Comprehensive, dramatic, and highly readable . . . H.W. Brands has written an authoritative, action-packed, and well-rounded biography of a very human Ulysses S. Grant."
“In this splendidly written biography, University of Texas at Austin professor H.W. Brands does justice to one of America’s most underrated presidents . . . Brands is both sympathetic and thorough in his examination of Grant’s life. The Man Who Saved the Union makes clear that Grant did precisely that. The end of the Civil War did not mark the end of the divisions that had so badly weakened the country, and during Reconstruction those divisions threatened to plunge America back into chaos. Brands has provided a valuable service by making clear how much America owes to Ulysses Grant.”
—Dallas Morning News
“Thorough, balanced, and a good read . . . Brands deserves great praise for once more attempting to put Ulysses S. Grant where he belongs, in the pantheon of American heroes.”
—Michael Korda, The Daily Beast
“Brands’s Grant is captured crisply in the title of his new biography: The Man Who Saved the Union. But Brands’s Grant is more than that. He is, like the increasingly accepted view of Dwight D. Eisenhower, ‘indisputably above politics,’ a crusader against race hatred, a warrior against what Grant himself called ‘lawlessness, turbulence, and bloodshed,’ friend to black and Indian alike. . . . Brands artfully portrays Grant as a man of his times—‘his adult life had coincided with the Union’s long crisis’—and argues, persuasively, that he played a role in settling the great questions of his time.”
—The Boston Globe
“What is distinctive about this distinguished biographer's new work is its rehabilitation of President Grant, who was not only a great general who wrote memoirs worthy of comparison to Julius Caesar's, but a great moral leader who pursued Lincoln's agenda of re-unifying the nation and integrating its former slaves into one indivisible nation.”
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
"A well-done effort to portray one of the most important and insufficiently appreciated American figures of the 19th century."
“Once again, H. W. Brands has crafted a wonderful portrait of a great leader who endured and prevailed in hours of stress and strain. Brands’s U. S. Grant is a compelling figure, a man too often overlooked by history. This book rectifies that with grace and insight.”
—Jon Meacham, author of American Lion, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for biography
"There is a magnificent unity to this story of Grant's leadership in both war and peace that is not found anywhere else. In this compelling narrative, Grant emerges more fascinating than ever before."
—Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of Team of Rivals and No Ordinary Time, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for history
“Too frequently overshadowed or overlooked, U. S. Grant finally gets his due in H. W. Brands’ splendid new biography. With verve and his trademark scholarship, Brands vividly brings Grant to life. Here, rendered in all his humanity, is the soldier, statesman, president. Here, too, is a man as much for our time as for his.”
—Jay Winik, author of April 1865 and The Great Upheaval
“H. W. Brands celebrates Grant the warrior and Grant the president, too long maligned by an unholy alliance of snobs, racists, and partisan historians. A great American gets his full due.”
—Richard Brookhiser, author of James Madison
“A skilled American storyteller reminds us of Grant's bravery and devotion on the bloody battlefields of the Civil War and as the president who rescued the martyred Lincoln's dream in the ugly seasons after the assassination. From the assault on Chapultepec to the carnage at Shiloh, from the Appomattox Court House to Grant's showdown as president with the Ku Klux Klan, the inestimable H. W. Brands tells the tale of this very human hero with the verve and insight we expect from a great biographer.”
—John A. Farrell, author of Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned
"With this clear-eyed work, Brands re-examines the great American struggle, this time with Grant at the center. The result is deeper and more complex than much of the giant Lincoln literature, as Brands gives us not just the war but its painful and painstaking aftermath. The Grant presented here is altogether new — flawed, yes, but also brilliant, pratical, humble and perfectly American. This is an essential book."
—Jim Newton, author of Eisenhower: The White House Years
“This authoritative biography of an obscure failure and occasional drunkard who became a Civil War generalissimo and the 18th U.S. president is a study in two kinds of moral courage . . . [Brands’s] narrative of Grant’s military campaigns in particular is lucid, colorful, and focused on telling moments of decision. His Grant emerges as an immensely appealing figure . . . with a keen mind, stout character, and unpretentious manner. The result is a fine portrait of the quintessential American hero.”
—Publishers Weekly starred review