rehabilitating ulysses s. grant

20120214100106ulysses_julia_and_jesse_grant-webRichard Carwardine at Literary Review:

Ron Chernow’s Grant brings an eloquent voice to the ongoing work of rehabilitation. Only last year Ronald C White’s American Ulyssesextolled Grant’s deep faith, sense of honour, commitment to racial justice and essential decency. But in Chernow’s hands Grant becomes an even more heroic figure. A prizewinning biographer with a gift for placing his American subjects in grand but intimate narratives (his Alexander Hamilton inspired Lin-Manuel Miranda’s stonkingly successful musical), Chernow takes as an emblematic starting point the final challenge of Grant’s life. Financially ruined by fraud in 1884, determined not to leave his family destitute and suffering from the onset of throat and tongue cancer (the legacy of lifelong cigar smoking), Grant agreed to write his memoirs. Racked with pain, the taciturn commander managed to complete, just days before his death in July 1885, a stunning literary masterpiece that has remained in print to this day. The talent it illuminated would have remained hidden but for this adversity. Chernow finds in this last great triumph of Grant’s life a metaphor for the ‘surprising comebacks and stunning reversals’ of his career as a whole. Sophisticates too easily underrated a plain, unassuming man with a rich but unobtrusive set of qualities: ‘a shrewd mind, a wry wit, a rich fund of anecdotes, wide knowledge, and penetrating insights’.

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