Thursday, May 20, 2010

Book recommendation

Nothing unusual to report on the political/economic/environmental fronts today. Just the same old stuff over again. So I thought I'd recommend a book once in awhile. I read non-fiction almost exclusively because it can be just as exciting and entertaining as fiction, while also being educational.

History is one of my favorite genres, and the Civil War is one of the most interesting periods in American history. I used to live between Antietam and Gettysburg battlefields, so started reading Civil War stuff, starting with Bruce Catton. Eventually, I decided the most interesting character of the war was General and later President Grant.

He was undoubtedly one of the greatest generals in US history - I think he deserves the #1 ranking. He directed more battles than just about anyone in our history, and only lost his first skirmish to overwhelming enemy forces. For the last 18 months or so he not only managed America's principal army directly in battle, but also managed all of our other forces as General in Chief. It was like combining a Patton, Eisenhower, and George Marshall into one job. He had an amazing career path - in 3 years he went from being a store clerk to the head of all US armed forces during our toughest war.

Later, he was, I think, a far better President than most historians give him credit for. One Grant biographer I read from 1895 thought he was the third greatest American after Washington and Lincoln. He had two reasons: first, he said Lincoln wanted to win the Civil War, but Grant was the man who actually won it. Without Grant, the North would almost certainly have lost the war, and the US would have become two countries. Reason enough perhaps.

Point two was that he thought Grant was the only President who could successfully put the country back together again after the war. Grant had the military respect of the South - he was the one who had beaten them, but he also had the personal respect of the Southern population by following Lincoln's policy of leniency toward leaders of the rebellion. When Grant entered office, the country was still divided, and the South was an open wound. By the time he left office, we were one country again. He was also the most active civil rights President between the Civil War and the 1960's.

One of the best books I've read on him is called simply "Grant" by Jean Edward Smith. It's not a new book, but is a classic on the subject. If you'd like to fill in the picture on arguably the most underrated American hero, this is an excellent read.

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