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The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses Grant in War and Peace

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  5,537 ratings  ·  346 reviews
From New York Times bestselling author H. W. Brands, a masterful biography of the Civil War general and two-term president who saved the Union twice, on the battlefield and in the White House, holding the country together at two critical turning points in our history.

Ulysses Grant rose from obscurity to discover he had a genius for battle, and he propelled the Union to vic
Hardcover, 718 pages
Published October 2nd 2012 by Doubleday
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Start your review of The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses Grant in War and Peace
“A lackluster clerk from Galena, Illinois, a failure in everything except marriage and war…”
- From the introduction to U.S. Grant, in Ken Burns’ The Civil War

“Grant was an uncommon fellow – the most modest, the most disinterested, and the most honest man I ever knew, with a temper that nothing could disturb, and a judgment that was judicial in its comprehensiveness and wisdom…Not a great man, except morally; not an original or brilliant man, but sincere, thoughtful, deep, and gifted with courage
May 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: listened-to
Book seventeen of my Presidential Challenge.

Prior to reading this book, I had only heard negative things about President/General Grant: He was a drunk, he ran a corrupt administration, he messed up Reconstruction, he liked to kick puppies (okay, I made up that last one but I wouldn't have been surprised).

Obviously, H.W. Brands wanted to use this book to make a case for Grant, and I've got to admit, he did a real good job of it. Okay, elephant in the room, was he a drunk? Yep, that's a big yep wi
Steven Peterson
Nov 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recently, I read a biography of Ulysses S. Grant authored by Jean Edward Smith. The end result was quite good. There was a nuanced analysis of the problems with ethics by some of his Administration while he was President. This work, too, does a fine job of giving us a view of U. S. Grant's life. Some preliminary comments.

Those with some familiarity with Grant will not necessarily find new revelations here. However, one will get a solid treatment of his life and his contributions.

His early life i
Mar 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
I'm definitely not qualified to say this is the best single volume treatment of Grant's life (I doubt anyone could agree on which book gets that honor), but it certainly was admirably thorough without becoming obsessively minute about trivial details. Brands knows which research to keep in the final draft, and he doesn't go far afield for that word-count suckage called "unnecessary context," which seems to infest so much historical nonfiction nowadays.

Grant is probably one of the most likable mi
Nov 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I knew very little about Ulysses S Grant before reading this book. I knew he was the main general on the Union side during the Civil War and that he later became president, but I seemed to recall that he wasn't a particularly good president. In a way The Man Who Saved the Union is working against that popular misconception to burnish Grant's somewhat tarnished legacy.

H.W. Brands is known for his sweeping presidential biographies - he penned the Wilson biography in the Times Books ambitious Amer
Jan 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
H.W. Brands has written a both a very readable and very favorable biography of one the most important military figures in our countries history. Dr Brands looks a US Grants life from his boyhood in Ohio through to his death from cancer in New York, with obvious emphasis on his Civil War record and post Civil War career.
In his coverage of the Civil War, Dr Brands concentrates on the personalities and overall strategy of the war, rather than tactics of the battles. He does not shed much new light
Mar 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is a sizable time investment, but worth it.

I knew Grant's battle record, but American history classes, even in college, generally wash away with the decades after the Civil War as: "Johnson was terrible, Reconstruction was a disaster, the KKK were rampant, there were economic crises, and Garfield was shot. Here's some stuff about the Gilded Age, and oh, along comes Teddy Roosevelt."

What we're taught is not very thorough. This was not exactly the high point of American history. That said,
Jean-Paul Adriaansen
May 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, history-usa
It is typical in times of war and crisis that people, like Ulysses Grant, destined for a life in obscurity, suddenly rise up out of nowhere, take the lead and save their country. Brilliant in battle, compassionate in victory, loved by his soldiers, respected by his enemies, Grant became the great American hero. No wonder he was pushed to become president. He didn't like politics, but he accepted it as a call of duty.
In the footsteps of President Lincoln, he became the man who restored the Union,
Dec 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: american-history
The Man Who Saved the Union portrays Ulysses S. Grant as a great leader not only of the civil war but also of the fight for civil rights. Grant’s character was shaped by integrity, confidence and persistence. These traits propelled him to success in the war and to recognition as a national hero. Scandals and the first U. S. industrial age depression exposed his limitations as president; however he continued to be held in high regard. After his death revisionist historians sullied his reputation, ...more
David Eppenstein
I read Grant's autobiography some time ago. In spite of its great reviews I was disappointed. The autobiography is quite detailed in its recounting of Grant's Civil War experiences and campaigns while Brand's biography is a survey of Grant's entire life. While the fans of military history will no doubt revel in the autobiography the book I was looking for was written by Prof. Brand and is about Grant the man and is well worth reading.
Jun 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
A rich and evenhanded biography of Grant. Brands provides little interpretation or analysis here, letting things speak for themselves. I didn’t find this to be a major problem, however. The book is well-written and engaging, and reads more like a work of narrative history than biography.

The biography was refreshing for me. Many biographies of American military figures are too often characterized by either hero worship or merciless criticism. The foremost example is Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee
This is a very readable and informative biography of one of our greatest presidents. Ulysses S. Grant accomplished two things that earned a nation's gratitude: he saved the Union by winning The Civil War; and he saved the country by winning the peace. The book is divided into three parts, a prologue setting the scene and then Grant at War (The Rage of Achilles) and finally Grant as president (And Give the Peace). Brands is very adept in the war sections to tell Grant's story while filling in the ...more
Sotiris Makrygiannis
Mar 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audio-book, internet
This is a long book. Could say that the first chapters are about the character and leadership style of President Grant. The strict formation but also relaxed and understanding. The rest gives you the feeling that the "negro" question and the civil war never ended. The secession of Lee created the paramilitary KKK that continue to rule the South. Only nowadays we can say that question is somehow solved and answered but the opinions were really of almost religious nature. President Grant won a war ...more
May 06, 2013 rated it really liked it

“The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses S. Grant in War and Peace” is H.W. Brands’s 2012 biography of the eighteenth president. Brands is a professor at the University of Texas and a prolific author. He has written nearly thirty books on a wide range of historical topics including biographies of Andrew Jackson, Theodore Roosevelt and Aaron Burr. He is currently working on “Reagan: A Life” which is due to be published in mid-2015.

Brands’s biography is the six
Oct 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
Very good one-volume biography of Ulysses S. Grant. Not quite up to the standards of those produced by Brooks Simpson and Jean Edward Smith...but not far behind. Vastly superior to the error riddled work by Geoffrey Perret or the technically competent, but interpretively flawed biography of Grant by William McFeely.

Brands demonstrates again that U.S. Grant is perhaps the most underrated figure in American history. His reputation trashed through the efforts of "lost cause" historians and their en
Eric Smith
May 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
In 1996 American historians ranked Grant the fourth worst president, 38th out of 42. Now he is ranked 28th out of 44, a huge increase in regard and the most dramatic presidential opinion turn around ever. The Man Who Saved the Union, by H. W. Brands, helps us understand why. The short version is that the defeated South won the opinion debate after the Civil War. Why? Because they still cared, could not get over being defeated, and saw U.S. Grant (and his arch-partner W. T. Sherman) as a man bene ...more
Tom Johnson
Apr 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: grant
Excellent one volume review of Grant's contribution to our country's history. The 3-volume set (Lloyd Lewis/Bruce Catton)remains the standard for Grant's life through the end of the Civil War but if you want a one volume work Brands' effort is a tad better than Jean Edward Smith's. The bugger has always been Grant's presidency - though it has to be admitted that governing the post Civil War States was hugely difficult. Racism and class warfare fired up immediately. Amazing how reading the histor ...more
Paul Pessolano
Dec 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
“The Man Who Saved the Union, Ulysses Grant in War and Peace” by H.W. Brands, published by Doubleday Books.

Category – Biography

Although this book is a biography of Ulysses Grant, I found it to be one of the best books I have read on the Civil War. H.W. Brands gives a stunning overall view of the war without going into details about each individual battle. Brands gives a concise view of the major battles and their results.

As a biography, the book puts a totally different perspective on Grant than
Nov 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
H. W. Brands , "The Man Who Saved the Union" is more than a biography of General and President U.S. Grant. The book details the political, economic, and social environment during Grant's time in public life. Mr. Brands allows the reader to understand Grant's actions during the Civil War and during his Presidency. He details both Grant's triumphs and failures; all major events receive attention. The biography is compelling, well written, and full of quotes which add flavor to the narrative.

As the
Dec 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
Reading the life of 'The Man Who Saved The Union' is one of the best things I ever did. There are a lot of perceptions of Ulysses Grant that I have heard over the years ranging from his drinking to the careless loss of life in battles he had commanded and all the way down to his corrupt presidency. While there is some truth in all of these, it was great to read for the first time a book devoted to him and understand him much better. He opposed the Mexican-American war and yet served bravely in i ...more
Andrew Obrigewitsch
Jun 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: educational, history
This is a great, well researched book about Ulysses Grant. One of the best presidents the U.S. had, who was marginalized by later literature for propaganda reasons that were pretty much forgotten 100 years ago. However his name was never taken out of the mud, and modern history text books still parrot the propaganda.

He took over the U.S. at a time when people in the South were shooting people that voted for Republicans. And he had to handle it. He had to deal with 2 factions fighting for control
Matt Breidenbach
Aug 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
As all the best historians do, H.W. Brands paints Ulysses Grant in a more Three Dimensional light than most of our memories would offer. If you'd asked me before reading 600+ pages what I thought of this man, I'd say: pretty solid general, who had the benefit of facing a depleted Confederacy and broken politics, who was also an alcoholic which ruined his career (that final thought in particular is B.S.).

After reading, I'm confident that not only is this man among the historical great Republican
Fred Kohn
Dec 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This was my first H. W. Brands read and it certainly won't be my last. It took a while to get used to his writing style which includes far more quotes from primary sources that I am used to. At first it made the text seem chopped up, but before half way through the book I got the hang of it. This is a book I definitely wouldn't mind revisiting sometime in the future.
Steve Smits
Jul 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Grant has always fascinated me. My interest in the Civil War has led to reading a number of biographies of Grant as well as the accounts of his campaigns in various histories. (His Personal Memoirs, still in print today, are required reading.) Most intriguing is the contrast between Grant's life up to the war and his life after. Up to the war Grant showed no signs of success, certainly nothing he did foretold the brilliance he exhibited throughout the war. He came from modest origins; his father ...more
Oct 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Ulysses S. Grant was once one of the most popular men in America, and reading THE MAN WHO SAVED THE UNION, it's not hard to figure out why. It's not just his historic role as the general who led the Northern forces to victory in the Civil War. Grant was apparently just a likable, quietly charismatic person, and H.W. Brands is best when he is bringing that aspect to life. From his laconic self-deprecating reflections on the Mexican War (including one funny recollection about leading a heroic char ...more
Jason Harrison
Mar 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, audiobooks
Truly an amazing book. One of the best biographies I've read.

I am planning to write a full review of this book.
Nov 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
The book proves that US Grant got a bad rap as President. The evidence presented by HW Brands demonstrates that Grant was a thoughtful, intelligent Chief Executive during an extremely difficult time in our history—the era of Reconstruction, where elements in the South wanted to continue without change. Grant walked a tightrope in his decision making, reluctantly sending Federal troops to S. Carolina and later Louisianna to suppress the activities of the KKK and other recalcitrants. He was involv ...more
David Bird
May 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
For an account of his Civil War years, Grant's own memoirs are unlikely to be bettered. But Brands does a good job with his life as a whole. He manages to admire his subject without being ostentatiously hagiographic.

As the war years are so familiar, the greater interest for me was in the coverage of Grant's period of service under Andrew Johnson, and then as President himself. Lincoln's greatness is further highlighted in contrast to the use that his successor attempted to make of Grant to shor
Apr 18, 2013 rated it it was ok
This book is an odd duck. It is quite readable, but it is absolutely not compelling. It took me a long time to get through because at no time did I feel I simply had to keep reading. It is also broad, providing a global view of Grant's life and times, but at the same time it is very shallow. Little is lingered on or examined in full. You get only broad strokes without a sense of the underlying details, and thereby no insight into what led to events and changes. This is particularly true of Grant ...more
Feb 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
My interest in Ulysses Grant was piqued while reading Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. I read that President Grant had actually appointed Ely S. Parker, the first Native American to head the BIA. Parker seemed to be the perfect choice for the job. (Although he was subsequently replaced by the traditional corrupt BIA leaders.) I had been led to believe that Grant was a weak, alcoholic President whose administration was marked by scandal. I began to wonder about his reputation, so I decided to read ...more
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Henry William Brands was born in Portland, Oregon, where he lived until he went to California for college. He attended Stanford University and studied history and mathematics. After graduating he became a traveling salesman, with a territory that spanned the West from the Pacific to Colorado. His wanderlust diminished after several trips across the Great Basin, and he turned to sales of a differen ...more

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