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Ulysses S. Grant
by Josiah Bunting III

I first got hooked on the stories of the US presidents with the magnificent book on John Adams by David McCullough.

I then read about (listened to, actually) George Washington and Harry Truman.

When I discovered the audio book of Ulysses Grant's story from the American Presidents series, I scooped it up.

What I remembered from school about Grant wasn't all that flattering. I recalled the Civil War successes of course but had a vague recollection of some reconstruction issues, political scandals and stories of Grant's drinking.

This is a more sympathetic rendering of the man than previous history books. Bunting explains how Grant rose up in the military ranks yet showed little ambition for the top spots. In fact he missed his family very much while away and that led to some of the serious drinking issues he has become known for.

Grant actually quit the military to return home and be with his wife and growing family. President Lincoln called him back to service for the Civil War and the rest is, literally, history.

The book is much shorter than say the John Adams history and I think it was too short in covering the Civil War battles. Granted (pun intended) there are numerous accounts of the Civil War but I wish there had been more details in this biography.

He was practically drafted to be President - again, not overly ambitious - and had to deal with the difficult task of rebuilding the divided country. He also had to deal with some weak and corrupt administration staffers. One of his biggest faults, Bunting points out, is how reluctant he was to confront the friends and underlings in his administration.

Bunting does tell how Grant's appearance and decorum didn't measure up to others - especially the Southern officer and gentleman Robert E. Lee but Grant didn't care about that.

I didn't remember from history class how dedicated Grant was to championing the cause of Native Americans and the newly freed Blacks. He faced a tough situation, following an impeached president and the calls from within his own Republican party to be tougher on the Southern states before allowing them to come back.

It's well worth listening to or reading this book to hear the other side of a president who typically ranked as one of the worst.

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