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Ulysses S. Grant: The Unlikely Hero (Eminent Lives)

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  384 Ratings  ·  58 Reviews

One of the first two volumes in Harper's Eminent Lives series, Korda brings his acclaimed storytelling talents to the life of Ulysses S. Grant – a man who managed to end the Civil War on a note of grace, serve two terms as president, write one of the most successful military memoirs in American literature, and is today remembered as a brilliant general but a failed preside

Hardcover, 161 pages
Published 2004 by HarperCollins
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Jul 02, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
"...any politician contemplating the use of force should read Grant before doing so."
- Michael Korda


This is my third in the James Atlas (general editor) and HarperCollins' Eminent Lives series dealing with American presidents. I liked Korda's book better than Johnson's biography of George Washington, but not as well as Hitchens' biography of Thomas Jefferson. I read this mainly as a preamble to reading the Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant.

I'm going to pause here for a second and just push a
National hero though he may be, it turns out it wasn’t all that easy being Ulysses S. Grant. Michael Korda’s brief biography captures the ups and downs of Grant the man, the general and the president in enjoyable and pithy prose.

Young Ulysses was quite the animal lover. He had a knack for “horse whispering,” and disliked meat- refusing to eat it unless charred beyond recognition. The problem was, Papa Grant was a tanner, meaning the crux of the family trade involved the bloody process of skinni
Jul 21, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
A very slight biography of former General of the Army and President of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant. Although its purpose is not to provide an in depth look at Grant, this work barely succeeds in its mission of providing a basic overview of its subject. While some sections are more readable than others the overall impression is one of a competent though unspectacular college thesis paper.

Falsely derided as a butcher and a drunk after the failure of reconstruction, Grant's reputation has u
Jun 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is a good concise biography of Ulysses Grant, which makes clear and significant connections between Grant's boyhood and experiences as a young man with his famous exploits as a soldier, a general and a president.

As a young man Grant attended West Point academy and after graduation he was sent to Fort Vancouver, where he was lonely and started drinking. He was promoted to Captain on the same day he quit the army, and returned to Galena, Illinois. He tried farming but failed then was a
Anthony Cimitile
Mar 27, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What made me pick this book, was that, I read a similar book like this, but it was about George Washington. When I saw this book, I wanted to read it because I had enjoyed reading the George Washington book which gave me more insight into the presidents life before and after his presidentcy. That is also what I had learned once I had finished reading the book on Ulysses S. Grant. I learned more about this mans life. From when he went into wars, and when he left the presidents seat.

One thing that
Aug 16, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A quick, breezy read of one of those well-known names who's famous-but-not-famous nowadays.

With such a short bio that isn't terribly exhaustively researched, it's hard for an average reader like me to know if his conclusions hold water. He makes some wide-ranging comparisons to Napoleon, Churchhill and Eisenhower which are interesting.

Awfully sympathetic to the subject, which isn't altogether bad considering most people can only tell you two things about Grant beyond the war: (a) he was a drunk
Nov 06, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone of military interest
Recommended to Marky by: N/A
Ulysses S. Grant wasn't the ordinary military general. In fact, no one would've guessed that Grant would become one of the best generals in United States history. His massive military knowledge helped unite the Union and the Confederacy through the civil war. As Grant grew up, he was a shy individual. But although shy, he was always serious with a lack of sense of humor. His military career was shaped at the West Point academy.
In my opinion, if we had a general like Ulysses S. Grant commanding
Joe Stack
Jul 31, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I think this is an evenhanded biography of Grant. In less than 200 pages the reader gets a clear and concise portrait of Grant. The brevity of the biography shows that one does not need a lengthy bio filled with details to get an understanding of the person that includes both strengths and weaknesses. The author is sympathetic, as was this reader, so my praise of this biography may be biased. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the succinctness and appreciated this summary of Grant's life. If you don't know ...more
Feb 20, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This was a very short biography, but very readable and enjoyable. I have not read any other biographies of Grant yet and this one was a great place to start. I think that Korda did a nice job of piecing together parts of Grant's life to give us a nice picture of who he was, what he was driven by and to a small extent, how things ended up as they did in Grant's life. And while the asides to current times or the comparisons so other presidents don't add to the story of Grant, they do make it more ...more
Mar 14, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent read of talented man at the right place at the right time with the boldness to make it happen.
Steph (loves water)
Dec 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015
Outstanding. Four and 1/2 stars. Loved this little book on my favorite Civil War general, and yes, my second favorite President...the last U.S. president not bought and paid for by Big Business.
Mike W
Mar 01, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Like the other volumes in the Eminent Lives series I've read, this is a very good and concise biography. It depicts Grant as a man generally ignored all his life, or dismissed as a failure, before the Civil War. He did poorly at Westpoint, got into trouble over a missing sum of money, and, in despair, resigned from the army to become a farmer. And, despite his hard work, Grant did poorly as a farmer too.

The outbreak of the Civil War revived his career, and he attracted the attention of Presiden
Oct 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I absolutely loved this book. I read it back to back with Paul Johnson’s bio on George Washington, and this was such a vast improvement over that. While that book felt rushed and incomplete, I think that Michael Korda was more adept at working in a short format, and made it feel more like a solid work in itself. I also think he demonstrated better scholarship by adding some reference markers throughout to a Bibliographic End Notes section.

How many biographies about a 19th century General would
Andrew Heller
The best thing about Michael Korda's short biography of Ulysses S. Grant is the author's winning prose style; it is an easy and entertaining read. Unfortunately, this is far outweighed by the negative: Korda is so unreliable on the facts, particularly easily ascertained ones about the Civil War, that I was moved to stop reading in the middle of the book to see what sources he used. I was not surprised to learn that he cited only one source for his Civil War chapters, The West Point Atlas of the ...more
Nov 09, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've never read in depth about the Civil War, nor have I read Grant's infamous memoirs, but I plan on doing more, based on this book. Grant said he never read memoirs or biographies, "I read but few lives of great men because biographers do not, as a rule, tell enough about the formative period of life. What I want to know is what a man did as a boy."

Well. Grant's boyhood? Miserable. A totally indifference, to the nth sociopathic degree, of a mother and a hardworking father, too busy for childre
Jun 13, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a slight book, but it does not claim to be more. As a basic introduction to the life of Ulysses Grant, once the most famous person in the world and now essentially forgotten, it is very good. I am not qualified to judge the accuracy of the details, of which some other reviewers have complained. But it provides a clear and compelling outline of the man, in his roles as general, President and husband, and serves the important purpose of re-introducing him to modern Americans.

Korda’s book i
Aug 15, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a small, short book, and part of the Eminent Lives Series, which I'm glad to learn about. These are all biographies written by currently successful authors. (Bill Bryson writes the one on Shakespeare...that I would like to read.) If they are all like this book, they are non-intimidating reads that are just the right amount of fact and annecdote. Grant was one of our country's greatest generals, but he was a failure at everything he touched until he met a battlefield. He drank, was insecu ...more
Dec 09, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've read longer and more detailed biographies of Grant but for a concise, well written, and engaging look at him this is a great place to start. Korda is a fantastic writer who at times gets slightly too enamoured of Grant in excusing some of his misdeeds in the White House(no mention that among those involved in rampant corruption was his own son Fred) but still presents him as a flawed but essentially good human being.
My only real criticism of the book is Korda's seeming obsession with the
Erez Davidi
I admit to being rather ignorant of Grant's life aside from a few anecdotes I read about him in a few Civil War history books. For some unexplained reason I was never very interested in reading about him. Therefore, I am no position to comment on the accuracy of this short biography, which from what I read, is oftentimes inaccurate, although chiefly on small and somewhat less important details.

I managed to learn quite a bit about Grant. Grant lived a most interesting life filled with failures bu
May 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Ulysses S. Grant: The Unlikely Hero" is a great biography on America's 18th president (Republican 2-terms 1869-1877). He was one of the great generals. Unlike George Washington, Grant never retreated. Grant pulled himself up from his boot strings. He helped end slavery but felt blacks were inferior to the white race. His weakness was whiskey and the propensity to align himself with those who were prone to public scandals. He was indeed an unlikely hero, but he was a hero nevertheless. In the en ...more
Maybe this might be a good place to start if you knew absolutely nothing about Ulysses S Grant. If you know any more than that, though, you'll likely be more irritated than informed by this brief biography. Like many short 'lives', it essentially recycles & dumbs down content from other, lengthier books, while adding nothing new or interesting to the mix. Korda's book might actually do more harm than good to neophytes in Grant studies, as he generally seems to give too much credence to malic ...more
Dec 01, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent book about a complicated man. I like how Korda gives us context to how Grant was challenged in parts of his life emotionally and politically. Korda shows the saviness of Grant during the civil war and at the end of his life.

Grant was flawed, a failure in business, an alcoholic, but incredibly driven to end the Civil War. Also after being diagnosed with throat cancer, his relentless pursuit to complete his biography is amazing. I love learning about flawed characters who find redemptio
Jun 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
For someone only generally familiar with Grant's life, this was a well-written, concise coverage of the essentials. From harness shop clerk in 1960 to 4 Star General & then President by '64 & '68, is a pretty amazing rising to the occasion. Korda's prose is generally excellent. My only criticism is that his sense of self-importance shows through from time to time. But that's a minor quibble. (I have read one other Korda effort - about owning a 'country house' in the Hudson Valley. My rea ...more
Joshua Booher
This book served its intended purpose by giving me a basic understanding of Grant. It was a quick and easy read. However, there were two things that got in the way: 1) the author used a lot of superlatives, which became comical and 2) the author liked to use Latin phrases and historical quotes with minimal context or explanation. These quotes/phrases were unnecessary and detracted from the biography. All in all though, it was good in that it was a short biography that enhanced my understanding o ...more
Cathy C
This was an overview of Grant's life. Very readable and accessible. I became interested in learning more about Grant after I read an biography of Lincoln last year. Most interesting was how he exceeded in combat situation in ways he was terribly unable to do in his civilian life. To read about how popular his memoirs were was amazing. This series isn't intended to give in depth insights into the subject's life but it did pique my interest in potentially reading more about him. Particularly his f ...more
David Bales
This was a very brief biography of Grant, giving a very limited account of his Civil War generalship and presidency, but gives the reader a sense of his relentlessness and bad business sense. As a professional soldier he was successful, but as a civilian, (even president) he mostly failed miserably. The most interesting parts were about his experiences as a young officer in Texas and during the Mexican War, (1845-1848) and his round-the-world trip in 1877-'79. I need to read a real biography of ...more
Jul 21, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I wanted a brief, fast Grant biography, hopefully including some insight on on who he was as a man, and this fit the bill. After finishing this, I ended up moving on to a more detailed biography to go in depth (Jean Edward Smith's Grant). I am glad I read this one first since it was a quick read and it also provided some fresh-in-the-brain context and foundation for the much longer biography I read next.
A brief and colloquial book, with a charm as opinionated, ironic, and humorous as a good magazine article, with a prose that is highly readable, never bogs down, and paces itself with the occasional dwelling on important controversies in Grant's life. What makes the book for me is the author's breadth of knowledge concerning other generals (Wellington, Napoleon) and presidents (Ike, Roosevelt) in comparison to Grant. It was a fabulous book to spin through.
Jan 17, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really like history so to me this book was pretty good. I liked the beginning because it talked about Grants tomb and I have been there a lot of times so i could picture the setting in my head very well. As the book was describing his early life it was kind of boring but once it got to the Mexican American war and the Civil war, it became really interesting. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes American history or the Civil war
Jan 07, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This brief biography focuses on Grant's military career slightly more than the rest of his life. Korda is British and makes frequent comparisons to European generals and civic leaders. There are some good personal stores concerning Grant's life here. The author also uses the biography as an excuse to indirectly critique American foreign policy in 2003.
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is an English-born writer and novelist who was editor-in-Chief of Simon & Schuster in New York City.
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