Tuesday, January 12, 2016

American Ulysses

When it comes to full-length modern Grant bios, there are quite a few to choose from (ex. Perret, Brands, Smith, Simpson, and McFeely) along with a host of shorter treatments and comparative works.

Ronald White, who announced his own effort back in 2010, will soon put his hat in the ring with American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant (Random House, Fall '16). It's too early for details but the first link offers some hints about the author's views.

Biographer extraordinaire Ron Chernow is also working on one and it will be interesting to see in what ways these two well regarded historians set themselves apart from their predecessors.


  1. Drew: At this point, the challenge is less about "in what ways" these authors set themselves apart from their (numerous) predecessors than about whether that's at all possible. Personally, I will refuse to buy either unless the author fully explains what he is adding to the (voluminous) literature. Meanwhile, leading ACW figures continue without any biographical treatment at all or a biography which is reasonably current.

    1. At this point in time, the truly great Grant biographer would have to be equally sharp in both 19th century military and U.S. social and political history, several careers worth of learning and scholarship in a single person. Tough to find.

  2. I'd bet $100 against a good Cuban cigar that both books will be hagiographies.

    Original analysis of Grant seems to stem from lesser-known authors like Frank Varney (Grant and the Rewriting of History) and Joseph Rose (Grant Under Fire.)

  3. I tend to agree, Phil. I hold out more hope for Ron Chernow's effort.

    Varney has been sadly overlooked (or impugned mostly by those who have not read his study. Same with Joe Rose.

    Sadly, most people really don't want to be challenged--ever. This is true in all walks of life. It is why so many of my students had such a hard time arguing the opposite point of view, with substance as foundation for their beliefs, as I routinely made them do.

  4. I always like to read more about Grant. He is one of my favorite figures of the war to study. I would like obscure figures to get their due to but Grant is one of the most remarkable men of American history and his life and times are utterly fascinating.

    As much as I love the older works by Lewis and Catton I really do believe that THE great work on Grant has yet to be done. Now if I had to explain how that would work. I guess I would have to plead ignorance. Personally I never get tired of reading about him but I would like someone to do something truly remarkable on him like Freeman did Lee (yes, with all its flaws). I believe Lewis was well on his way to doing that for Grant before his premature death.

    William C Davis wrote a very good recent dual book and Grant and Lee. I was surprised as great of a Civil War historian as he is that it didn't receive even more recognition.


  5. Drew
    I agree with many of the thoughts from these posts. Although I'm always glad to see new books on Civil War subjects, when it comes to Lee, Grant, Jackson, Sherman, Sheridan, all the big names, unless there is something new to be added.....

    I also agree that I wish there were more biographies of less high ranking generals. I understand, good papers, primary sources, etc are needed, but it would certainly be nice to see some biographies of subjects never done. Perhaps Ted is aware of some being worked on.

    I'm not familiar with White's study of Lincoln and only know of Chernow's reputation. Perhaps we will all be surprised by both.

    Drew, as always thanks for the info.

    Don H.


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