Chernow, Ron, Grant, Penguin Press; 1st edition (October 10, 2017)
A hefty, yet easily digestible biography continues the author’s attempts at reimagining supposedly misunderstood figures. The actual result is consensus history masquerading as newly discovered insight.
The success of his biography of Alexander Hamilton… and the subsequent musical it inspired, brought about unprecedented anticipation for his latest work. Chernow has tapped into the millennial generation’s need for easily digestible, episodic history. His style is to illustrate personal relationships, conflicts, and controversies and explain how the collective memory has misunderstood the stories. This is best illustrated as he discusses Grant’s well documented drinking problem- never really that drunk, always alert, and kept in line by his dutiful wife, Julia. Chernow’s gift is his effortless storytelling blended with an authoritative tone. Trouble is, this analysis is not revelatory, and has been well covered in the work of previous historians.
Chernow combs through and pieces together observations from previous Grant scholarship… and artfully weaves it into his own narrative. His assertion that Grant’s reputation as a poor general is undeserved was well covered in Bruce Catton’s three volume study from 1960. Brooks D. Simpson’s 1991 evaluation of the Grant presidency put to rest the many accusations of incompetence and corruption and established Grant’s indispensable role in Reconstruction; points that Chernow meticulously recounts in the final one third of his 1,074 page study.
Reviewers have already deemed this biography as “definitive”… despite the fact that Chernow breaks little, if any new ground. Chernow wants you to believe that Grant has been widely misunderstood and underappreciated. The casual history reader, unfamiliar with previous Grant scholarship, is best served by Chernow’s efforts.` The popularity of his previous work all but guarantees his place on the bestseller list.