Jean Edward Smith is the author of numerous works of history and biography, including biographies of John Marshall and Lucius D. Clay. He taught political science at the University of Toronto for more than thirty years and is currently the John Marshall Professor of Political Science at Marshall University.
Scholars consistently rank Ulysses Grant as the greatest Civil War general but one of the worst American presidents. This provocative biography attempts to reconcile Grant's contradictory reputations via the concept of "character." Marshall University political scientist Smith, who also authored the top-notch modern biography John Marshall: Definer of a Nation, effectively portrays Grant as a consistently decent, modest, and competent individual who experienced terrible luck in his civilian life but the opposite in public service. Grant never considered himself a warrior or a politician, but when presented with a mission he was tenacious. Lincoln recognized Grant's battlefield persistence and so did the public. Grant could be forceful, but he also could be too trusting and too needy of support, especially from his wife. A successful first term in the White House led to a less successful encore, though had Grant been a natural politician, it is likely he could have had a third term. The author effectively argues that Grant was not personally involved in his cronies' scandals. This is the best one-volume biography of Grant to date, and it may help elevate him among his fellow presidents. Highly recommended. William D. Pederson, Louisiana State University in Shreveport Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Grant's reputation as a general has steadily improved in the past quarter century, and the preceding decade has seen reevaluation of a presidency previously dismissed as an eight-year disaster. Smith, until now best known for his work in 20th-century U.S. foreign policy (George Bush's War), integrates Grant's career and achievements in what is by far the best comprehensive biography to date of a man who remains in enigma. A West Pointer who disliked the army enough to resign from it in 1854, Grant failed unobtrusively at every civilian enterprise he attempted. His return to arms in 1861 was marked by no spectacular triumph. Instead, from Shiloh through Vickburgh to Chattanooga, he established himself as the North's best general by a combination of flexibility, resilience and determination. Lee's unconditional surrender was accompanied by Grant's de facto pardon of the defeated army, and Smith persuasively interprets this as an early turning point of reconstruction, preventing Northern reprisals that might have left the nation permanently divided emotionally. Elected president in 1868, Grant above all sought reconciliation, yet made measured and effective use of the army to protect black rights in the south. Smith makes a strong case that the financial scandals that dogged Grant's second term reflected individual misfeasance rather than structural malaise-Grant was better at judging military subordinates than political advisers. His mediation of the Hayes-Tilden election in 1876 helped avert a national crisis. As a conqueror who was also a healer of war's wounds, Grant stands with no superiors and few equals, Smith forcefully argues. (Apr.) Forecast: The timing of this book is right, with Colin Powell as secretary of state and an election whose questions of black disenfranchisement and small electoral margin of victory are analogous to Hayes-Tilden. Add to that this book's comprehensiveness, rigor and readability, and it should do quite well. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
"By far the best life of Grant ever written. . . . It is a
remarkable achievement."--David Herbert Donald, author of
"In the ongoing positive reevaluation of Grant's career, this is the best full-scale biography to have appeared."--James M. McPherson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Battle Cry of Freedom
"This book one-ups previous Grant biographies."--Frank Scaturro "The Washington Times "