Kirkus Reviews QR Code
ULYSSES S. GRANT by Brooks D. Simpson


Triumph over Adversity, 1822-1865

by Brooks D. Simpson

Pub Date: Feb. 21st, 2000
ISBN: 0-395-65994-9
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

The superb first installment in a planned two-volume biography of the greatest Northern general of the Civil War—and one of the most remarkable military figures of all time. Simpson (History/Arizona State Univ.; The Reconstruction Presidents, 1998) is an oft-published authority on the era of the Civil War and Reconstruction. Here he takes on the case of U.S. Grant, whose unlikely rise from West Point—trained failed businessman to the pinnacle of military power is one of the most extraordinary success stories in American history. Appropriately enough, roughly 80 per cent of the volume concerns Grant’s military career, from his service in the Mexican War through his triumph at Appomattox. But the distinctive value of Simpson’s work, especially compared to William McFeely’s prizewinning biography, is that he does not slight Grant’s personal life, especially his fraught relationships with his father and slaveholding father-in-law and his marriage to Julia Dent Grant. Moreover, Simpson is unfailingly balanced and judicious in his assessments of military decisions, battles, and politics. While he is clearly partial to his subject, he does not shy away from Grant’s tactical errors or the never-stilled rumors of his excessive drinking (for which Simpson finds insufficient evidence and many embellished stories). Why, given the existence of so many other studies about the man and his times, would anyone want to read this lengthy biography? Because it is skillfully written; because Grant’s life is more fully realized in it than in previous one-volume studies; and because Simpson, who has benefited from decades of Civil War study, wears his wide-ranging scholarship lightly. Guaranteed to enlighten and please anyone who hasn’t had enough of the Civil War and its central figures. (7 maps, not seen)