In This Review

By Ron Chernow
Penguin Press, 2017, 1104 pp

Ulysses S. Grant was a brilliant general and, as president, did more than any other American leader to defend the newly freed slaves of the South after the Civil War. Yet partly as a result of his own weaknesses and blind spots, and partly as a casualty of the pro-Southern historians who shaped public understanding of Reconstruction for more than a century, Grant lies almost forgotten in his grave. Chernow, one of the finest biographical writers in American history, has undertaken to remedy this historical injustice by explaining and rehabilitating Grant. The result is a triumph: a sympathetic but clear-eyed biography that will be the starting point for all future studies of this enigmatic man. One only wishes that Chernow had chosen to make this a two-volume account. Reconstruction is such a complex and poorly understood chapter in U.S. history that the story of Grant’s presidency is difficult to tell within the confines of a single volume, one that must also contain something close to a full history of the Civil War. This remains, however, a book that no serious student of U.S. history can afford to miss.