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Grant: A Biography

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  1,537 Ratings  ·  51 Reviews
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

The seminal biography of one of America's towering, enigmatic figures. From his boyhood in Ohio to the battlefields of the Civil War and his presidency during the crucial years of Reconstruction, this Pulitzer Prize-winning biography traces the entire arc of Grant's life (1822-1885).

Author Biography: William S. McFeely is the author of Yankee

Paperback, 608 pages
Published September 17th 2002 by W. W. Norton Company (first published 1981)
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Apr 30, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not a float; June was a busy month...

I laughed and nodded when McFeely cited, as evidence Ulysses Grant felt complete only in battle , the fact that Grant finished the Mexican War with two big promotions and a sterling combat record despite never having been assigned combat duties. He was his regiment’s quartermaster, the supply guy in the rear of the column, back with the mules. But dude could not stay out of a fight. During the final assault on Mexico City, future adversary Robert E. Lee and t
Jul 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
This is a fantastic biography and not just because Grant led a bizarrely incredible life but because of the author's not well hidden disdain for Grant (no really, he kind of hates the guy). Even so, it is exceptionally well written and focuses more on the big picture of the United States during Grant's life and how Grant fit in to it rather than just a boring recitation of what Grant did everyday like such banalities as what kind of oatmeal he ate on some October morning in 1874 which many other ...more
Jul 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
A critical, lively and well-researched biography of Grant, often at odds with more recent portraits of the man. McFeely’s Grant comes off as simple, pragmatic, and unpretentious.

McFeely portrays Grant as an almost bloodthirsty warrior who had no problem with carnage and was generally insensitive to suffering. While Grant was known for his simplicity and modesty, McFeely argues that this was a carefully crafted image and that Grant’s presidential ambitions were more obvious than they seem. He is
May 06, 2013 rated it really liked it

“Grant: A Biography” is William McFeely’s Pulitzer Prize winning 1981 biography of the Union general and eighteenth president. McFeely is a historian and retired professor of history. He has authored numerous books including biographies of Frederick Douglass and Thomas Eakins.

Although considered a seminal work on Grant, this biography is sometimes criticized for being too harsh toward its subject and for relying too frequently on psychological interpretati
Joe Kramer
Nov 26, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Presidential historians, Civil War enthusiasts
So, I finally finished this book on Ulysses S. Grant that I got for Christmas. Damn, who knew this would be such an exhaustive read. Needless to say this book was very, very, very thorough.

Here's what I's this guy U.S. Grant from Ohio, he goes to West Point, fights in the Spanish American War, fairly standard stuff – some interesting perspective on Mexico and our countries actions in that war.

Than he goes back home, to Galena, IL, where for at least ten years he fails at basically
Jerry Landry
Though I didn't always agree with him or with his policies, I have to admit that at numerous times while reading this book, I would exclaim aloud, "Poor Grant!" In some ways, Grant seems like the original hard luck kid. Though ultimately a well-known figure in American history, Grant could also have easily ended up as barely a footnote if that in our national story. McFeely does an excellent job of taking the reader through Grant's life, providing a description of the times and events directly o ...more
I wanted to like Grant. Actually, before reading this book, I'm pretty sure that I did like him in a vague way. I knew only that he had been the savior of the Civil War, and that seemed like something we should be into. But turns out....that he didn't actually get into the Civil War because he believed in the cause, but because he wanted a job because he sucked at everything else. Oh, and the fact the he pretty much didn't learn jack from being the world's awesomest general and instead ...more
Joseph Rose
Sep 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
Although the author arrives at just conclusions about much of Ulysses S. Grant's generalship and personality—he dares to challenge the standard view of Grant as a great commander with a firmly upright character—the book's grasp of the military aspects of the Civil War is sometimes lacking. It's very elegantly written, which is hardly surprising for a winner of the Pulitzer Prize.
Christie Bane
Oct 09, 2017 rated it liked it
If you are looking for the definitive Grant biography, one that does its best to give you every little detail of his life that has survived the 100+ years since he was president, this is your book. If you are looking for a quick overview of a moderately interesting president, this book will become a specter of dread as you become more and more certain that it's going to go on forever and you will never get through it.

This is not to say that Grant wasn't an interesting guy. He was, for sure. The
Steven Meyers
Sep 06, 2017 rated it it was ok
As compared to other biographies I've read, 'Grant' was a disappointment. Maybe it was the subject matter. The reserved Ulysses Grant was not a reservoir of colorful anecdotes. Also while the material is clearly presented the writing had no flair to it. Some may like the author's style but there were sections that practically put me to sleep. Mr. McFeely Pultizer-Prize winning biography was published in 1981. His pop psychology of what made Grant missed, I believe, more current knowledge about h ...more
Grant's brilliant war moves (and a few not so brilliant) were political maneuverings on his part. A failure before and after the war, the war years were the time he really felt alive. If he had been a true believer in what the Civil War had brought about, Reconstruction could have been more successful and humane. But he stood firm for few beliefs.
Michael Walker
May 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I've read a couple Civil War books and two bios of Grant, and this one is the best of the bunch on the man, in my humble opinion. The book won a Pulitzer, the readability "stamp of approval" for me.
Mar 12, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: u-s-history
McFeely comments that “once more, Ulysses Grant did not get quite to the top” while describing a hike Ulysses S. Grant and his entourage took while on tour in Italy (465). The “once again” is undefined but seems a curious comment to make for the Union’s top General in the Civil War who went on to serve two terms as United States President. Reflecting on Grant’s life, it seems that rather than not rising high enough, he rose a bit too high. While unquestionably a competent military commander, Gra ...more
Aaron Million
Fairly thorough, if not sometimes caustic, biography about the Civil War General and two term Republican President. McFeely seems to engage in quite a bit of psychology throughout the book - trying to explain Grant's actions and words as him attempting to be someone who mattered or who had been able to be successful at life. While I am sure there is some truth to that, any person can be subjected to that kind of scrutiny and be made to look as if he or she is attempting to fulfill or conquer som ...more
David Hill
Mar 25, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm working my way through whole-life biographies of US presidents. A good friend recommended, when I go to Grant, that I read his memoirs. After a bit of research, I decided to read McFeely's book instead because Grant's memoirs don't include his presidential years. I will get around to reading Grant's memoirs one of these days, though, as I often hear them regarded as one of the great works about the Civil War.

This book pretty much hit the sweet spot in my requirements when it comes to preside
Peter Sprunger
Oct 21, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This was an excellently written biography. Of the Presidential biographies I've read so far, this one was the best. McFeely is neither for or against Grant and he portrays him as a person with faults that anyone can relate too. He had a drinking problem, did not understand finances, desired to be in the limelight, and was too trusting. On the other hand he understood the purpose of war better than any of his other contemporaries, which along with his ability to organize, allowed him to be (one o ...more
Susan Barsy
Oct 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
History through biography: McFeely's telling of Grant's life-story is also a tour through mid-19th century American history--through the Mexican War, the harrowing course of the Civil War, and the dubious dawn of the "Gilded Age" afterward. More than any other book, this one conveys how gruesome the Civil War was and how Grant's remarkable abilities as a writer, commander, and strategist brought about change in how war was to be waged.

The closing chapters of the book, dealing with Grant's illnes
Jan 25, 2013 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Civil war readers, presidential history readers
It seems that Grant’s downfall as president was his inability to transition from being a general in the military, where every order is followed, to a political leader, where every order is debated and often not followed. He never seemed to grasp this. It’s a wonder he even wanted to run for second term, let alone try for a third. Like W, he also didn’t seem to have any “deep thoughts” or long term agenda. And he surrounded himself with friends and long time companions as advisors. Kind of tragic ...more
Feb 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is my first Grant biography and my knowledge of Grant is limited (which is why I read this book), but I thought it was a pretty good read. It is not a military history, but rather McFeely's attempt to get inside the head of General Grant. That's a tough task and this book has a negative tone at times where the author goes a bit overboard in his psychoanalysis. I much prefer books where the author's biases are hard to spot.

Nevertheless it is well written and does give you a feel for who Gra
Mar 21, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: American History students
The author speaks highly of Grant as a military commander, fully grasping the military and political implications of the American Civil War. The author has a very low opinion of Grant as a politician and President of the United States; feeling that Grant was too expedient in his political decisions and too concerned with loosing popularity to make the difficult decisions concerning Reconstruction, the Indian Wars, and race relations. Ultimately McFeely feels that Grant had to become President be ...more
Jun 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Okay, I need to state up-front that I was a bit biased going into this book. The author's son is the head of my company. That said, though, I cannot state how often I stopped for a moment in my reading to reflect upon why this book was so deserving of its Pulitzer Prize. Throughout the book, McFeely presents just the right amount of extra analysis. This takes the book from being your average "he went here, he did this" biography to something far greater. He put it all into context and taught his ...more
Kevin Key
Apr 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Mcfeely does a great covering the entire life of U S. Grant, and beyond. I had heard many about the General and President, however his big picture contributions to our country puts him up there as one of our great presidents. Sure he had flaws and made mistakes, but his leadership during the largest turmoil our country has ever seen. He was a magnificent war leader and a great president following. He into reconstruction. He was champion in civil rights for the time, he was very instrumental in t ...more
Chris Lopez-cepero
Apr 03, 2013 rated it liked it
The presidency of Ulysses S. Grant is one of the greatest disappointments in American history, a disappointment not just noted dispassionately but intensely felt by that generation of Americans. Its palpable presence in some other books I've read--especially 'The Education of Henry Adams'--drew me to a closer look at Grant and his life.

Ultimately, Grant is an historical figure of immense contradictions. McFeely is perceptive enough to portray those contradictions in sharp relief, but I closed th
Jan 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
Thirty-four years ago I bought this book in Fremont, Nebraska. I sat it on a pile of books for my pleasure within the near future. Well today I finally finished it. Not for any other reason that it just took me that long to pick it up.

The book is a story of a man's life from poverty to riches; from failure to triumph, and from humilittion to glorification. Grant was a great leader is a horrible war but very incompetent as a leader of a nation. We can definitely learn much of how to be a better
Jan 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: civil-war-nf
McFeely really seemed to understand the perspective of all the other previous Grant biographers, even Grant's own assessment of himself. There seemed to be a very deep understanding of Grant and his relationship with his wife and closest aide during the war and Presidency. It's uncanny how McFeely even seems to know when Grant was being dishonest or manipulating situations, and he extremely investigated individual episodes of great importance in Grant's career. Still, McFeely's portrayals of Gra ...more
Tom Rowe
May 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is a very interesting book with the exception of the time of Grant's presidency. However, I find most presidential biographies to be boring during the presidential terms. This one seemed more so as most of it was focused on naming members of the administration and then renaming them as they left through scandal or whatnot and so on. I did learn a lot about a president that I knew almost nothing about. I would recommend.
This was just OK. It was a pretty basic and rote iteration of his life, and it in no way piqued my emotions. But also, maybe I was just annoyed with the narrator (I listened to it in BOT form) who was repeatedly incapable of properly pronouncing the following words/names:

- Commensurate
- Assuage
- Cadwallader
- Balmoral
- Irrefutable

I feel like you should run those by someone before you commit your voice to audio form.
Feb 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
Both complicated and misunderstood, Grant was a celebrated war-hero, a failure in business and known to have led the most corrupt presidential administration until Harding's in the 1920s. But he was not a drunk as everyone said. He was not simple. He led reconstruction efforts and support racial equality. He tried to annex the Dominican Republic as a version of Liberia. And he liked to disappoint his detractors.
Sean Chick
Aug 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This is not just the best Grant biography, but the best biography I have ever read. Sometimes McFeely falls into making opaque conclusions and psychological suggestions, but he avoids the the twin biographers trap of falling in love with or despising his subject. He remains fair, pointing out Grant's successes and strengths along with his failures and personality defects. It also helps that this book reads like a novel.
Jul 23, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: civil-war, biography
The author makes some interesting observations about Grant -- such as his need to be seen as a success -- but he doesn't know how to tell a story. There's no flow, just a jumble of observations that don't always connect. The transitions are so indirect that it takes a while for the reader to realize he's delving into a new subject. And for someone who led as dramatic a life as Grant did, there's absolutely no emotion in the writing. The author's prose is extremely dry.
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