Tuesday, May 01, 2018

"Grant" by Ron Chernow - A Treasure Trove of Information and Insight

Like many readers, I became familiar with the work of Ron Chernow through the back door - through his association with Lin-Manuel Miranda and the Broadway musical "Hamilton." That revolutionary work of art is, of course, based on Chernow's excellent biography of Alexander Hamilton. Having seen the musical, I was prompted to go to the source and read the book. I was not disappointed. Chernow is unique among historians in that he combines meticulous research and scholarship with an engaging narrative style that draws the reader into the lives of the persons being described. Having enjoyed the Hamilton biography, I was eager to dive into "Grant." Chernow is consistent, for the same accolades I gave to "Hamilton" can be applied to "Grant."

I learned a great deal about Grant, about the Civil War, about Reconstruction, and the struggles of America to knit itself back together after the bloody War Between The States. Grant emerges in this book as a complex figure. He was a reluctant West Point cadet, a failed businessman, a frustrated junior officer, a brilliant strategist as a general, a passionate defender of former slaves, and a naive judge of character who was perpetually fooled and bamboozled by those he trusted too long and too deeply. Chernow addresses the issues of Grant's reputation as a heavy drinker, and gives praise to Mrs. Grant and General John Rawlins, Grant's personal conscience and Jiminy Cricket, for keeping him mostly sober during the Civil War and during his White House years.

Even for someone familiar with this turbulent period in American history, this book will prove instructive and illuminating.