GrantGrant by Ron Chernow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In a world rife with sarcasm (this reader is guilty) and pessimism (also guilty), we could use a few more earnest men like Grant. Chernow paints a portrait of a man whose character was conspicuously free of pretense, guile, or hubris. Despite a demonstrated brilliance in military affairs and civic leadership, Grant’s exceptional character blinded him time and time again to the deceit of others. So much was Grant without guile, Chernow says, that he seemed incapable of imagining that his counterparts could have a mind to do anything other than what they’d promised. Related to this was Grant’s unbounded empathy. He never gloated in victory and couldn’t countenance the suffering of another being, human or otherwise.

A natural result of Grant’s character was a life repeatedly defaced by fraudsters and double crossers. But it was that same character that catapulted Grant into the highest echelons of government (as well as the highest esteem of the vast majority of Americans).

Grant had faults, to be sure (e.g., favoritism, misguided tenacity, intermittent alcoholism, etc.), but these were on par with those vices that we all battle within ourselves, and a far cry from the darker blemishes that we all-but-automatically overlook for lesser presidents.

Every now and again, a decent, unassuming, but remarkably capable person comes along who happens to be recognized by the powers that be (Lincoln, in this case) as the right man or woman for a critical job. America could have done a lot worse than General Grant. Grant’s contributions to the preservation and strength of the American experiment are immeasurable and, thanks in part to Chernow’s book, will continue to point us all in the direction of greater unity.

This review also appears in Goodreads.