Thoughts on books, often interpreted through the high-brow prism of cartoon (read: Archer) references. Wait! I had something for this...
National hero though he may be, it turns out it wasn’t all that easy being Ulysses S. Grant. Michael Korda’s brief biography captures the ups and downs of Grant the man, the general and the president in enjoyable and pithy prose. Young Ulysses was quite the animal lover. He had a knack for “horse whispering,” and disliked meat, refusing to eat it unless charred beyond recognition. The problem was, Papa Grant was a tanner, meaning the crux of the family trade involved the bloody process of skinning and handling the hide of the farm animals of which Ulysses was so fond. (Perhaps this contributed to his father’s nicknaming him “Useless”).
However, Grant’s horsemanship would prove useful in his military endeavors. Frankly, I give him points for losing his usually calm temper when he came upon a Union soldier beating a horse about the head.
Like a lot of presidents, it seems, Grant’s name as we now know it metamorphosed from its original form (Hiram Ulysses Grant). When you show up to West Point, it turns out that having the initials “H.U.G.” is not ideal, so Grant was happy enough to go along with a registrar’s error that had his first name listed as Ulysses and his second initial as his mother’s maiden name, Simpson.
Korda doesn’t mince words when it comes to describing Grant’s bride, Julia, who held an appeal that only Ulysses seemed to be able to see. Some might chalk it up to his tendency to hit the sauce, but he confided in her throughout his travails at war and was happiest when in her company, so to each his own.
Speaking of war time travails, in addition to having presidential runners sent to make sure Grant wasn’t too lost in the cups, and, an increasingly disgruntled army to lead, Grant struck another bit of bad luck en route to Vicksburg. While aboard ship on the Mississippi, someone tossed Grant’s false teeth overboard. Grant’s dental woes would, ultimately, be his downfall, as his 20-cigar a day smoking habit led to a painful protracted death by oral cancer.
Grant was a complex man full of flaws, and thrust into office without any political or financial know-how. He definitely had his less than admirable moments (Hey, you know who we should probably blame all this plundering on? The Jews!), but they by no means outweighed his more memorable heroic features. I definitely plan on picking up a more in-depth bio, if not his own memoirs, to learn more about our 18th pres, and would also happily read more of Korda’s work.