Wednesday, September 14, 2022


My book for August was Grant by Ron Chernow. It fits into my long term project to read books about all of the presidents. I also read Cherhow's biography of Alexander Hamilton.

I read the Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant in 2005. I had forgotten that Grant was stationed on the West Coast in Humboldt and Portland after the Mexican-American War. After he left the miliary, there was a four-year period of failure so excruciating that Grant skipped over it altogether in his Memoirs.

I was left with two general observations about the Civil War. First, the body count in some of the battles is almost inconceivable. Five to ten thousand men were killed in some of the battles. The war claimed 750,000 lives, more than the combined total losses in all other wars between the Revolutionary War and the Vietnam War. Second, the politics of the generals is fascinating; there was a whole dismal parade of career hacks and self-promoting political generals on the Union side that Lincoln had to weed out.

Grant had the misfortune of presiding over America in the corrupt Gilded Age. Despite conspicuous blunders in his first term, notably cronyism and the misbegotten Santo Domingo treaty, Grant had chalked up significant triumphs in suppressing the Klan, reducing debt, trying to clean up Indian trading posts and experimenting with civil service reform.

I was surprised by Grant's post-presidential life. He and his family spent two years and four months roaming the world. When Grant returned to the United States, there was a failed attempt to nominate him for a third term. Living in New York, he got wound up losing everything in Ferdinand Ward's giant ponzi scheme. Stricken with throat cancer, Grant wrote his memiors which were published by Mark Twain's publishing company.

At the 960 pages, the book was load. Although the repeated debate about Grant as an alcoholic gets old, I enjoyed the book.

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