Roughly a hundred years after the American Revolution, the country was at the cusp of tearing itself apart. The divided states of America entered the bloodiest war of its history, upon itself. Rising as hero of the Union, and future President, was a man throughout his life described as unexceptional.
The ascendance of Grant reads as an unbelievable fiction story. Would you believe me if I told you a man ousted from the military, battling a lifetime alcohol problem, who spent almost all of his thirties living in poverty and barely able to take care of his family would become one of the greatest generals in American history and President of the United States?
Chernow takes us through the pain of Grant’s early years into his glory during the Civil War. We learn after Appomattox, Grant’s battle has really only just begun. Post-Civil War America is hanging together by a thread with little direction. After Lincoln’s assassination, Vice President Andrew Johnson, an outright racist, has little desire to carry out Lincoln’s Reconstruction ambitions. Johnson serves in wasted time with the country regressing and in need of strong leadership. In this era, candidates did not engage in self-promotion or campaigning. The General received the call to serve his country once again, this time as President.
Chernow is able to blend the history of the Civil War, American politics, and the life of Grant in what reads like a thriller. I have now read three Chernow books, and Grant proves to be another reason why I always recommend his work.