ULYSSES S. GRANT by Geoffrey Perret


Soldier and President
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 In contrast to his last subject, the vainglorious Douglas MacArthur (Old Soldiers Never Die, 1996), military historian Perret profiles the Union commander as an unassuming strategist ahead of his time and as a president whose abysmal standing deserves re- evaluation. The facts of Grant's life, familiar enough to Civil War aficionados, are retold here, from his service in the Mexican War, to the ennui that temporarily ended his army career in 1854 and left him a clerk in his family's store in Galena, Ill., to his blissful four-decade marriage to wife Julia. What distinguishes this narrative are Perret's bristling style and his skillful blend of tactical analysis and conventional biography. Like his hero, Perret prefers to stay on the offensive, in this case against William McFeely's Pulitzer Prizewinning Grant (1981) for its allegations of the general's sporadic insubordination, drunkenness on several occasions, and perjured deposition on behalf of an aide during his presidency. On the contrary, Perret claims, as a person Grant displayed unimpeachable integrity, and as a general he exhibited a penetrating intelligence, a driving will, and an eerie calm at the center of war's storm. One wishes for a stronger admission of Grant's shortcomings (even the disastrous assault on Cold Harbor is blamed on General George Meade). But Perret outlines, in admirably clear prose, Grant's mastery of the ``wide envelopment'' movement, and his gamble in the Vicksburg campaign to cut loose from his supply line. He even makes a convincing case that, for all the scandals embroiling subordinates, Grant as president had successes (e.g., smashing the Ku Klux Klan). But most of all, Perret persuasively presents a man who endured and conquered all: binge drinking, rivals, false friends, and even the cancer that could not stop him from completing his memoirs (which, Perret notes, ``have the directness and limpidity of the purest English prose''). A shrewd, if insistent, brief for Grant as his era's most imaginative and resourceful master of war. (16 pages b&w photos)

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-679-44766-0
Page count: 576pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1997


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