In rankings of U.S. presidents, Ulysses Grant typically finishes at or near the bottom. Most contemporary historians have little use for the Civil War general who served in the White House from 1869 to 1877.
In downgrading the eighteenth president, many point to the scandals that rocked his second term. Others cite Grant’s hands-off leadership style. A few draw inordinate attention to his personal failings.
Ronald C. White is not among them. In American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant, the author gives us a man that modern historians and scholars, often driven by modern biases, tend to overlook.
To be sure, White, the New York Times-bestselling author, does not sweep Gilded Age corruption under the rug. He describes the unethical behavior and influence peddling that occurred under Grant’s watch in great detail, but he does so in a way that exonerates the two-term chief executive of everything but misplaced trust.
White’s Grant is a study in contrasts: a fierce, dogged warrior who loathed violence; an inarticulate speaker who was an eloquent writer; a man who hated conflict and controversy but invited both as a champion of newly freed slaves, Native Americans, and women.
The Grant is this thoughtful work is also a compelling figure: a boy who favored reading books over hunting animals, a young soldier who fought loneliness when separated from his bride, and a poor man who struggled most of his life to make an adequate living.
In short, White fills the gaps left by all too many texts and history books. I recommend American Ulysses to anyone who loves history, underdogs, and new takes on old subjects. Rating: 4.5/5.