Bill Clinton in The New York Times:
This is a good time for Ron Chernow’s fine biography of Ulysses S. Grant to appear, as we live with the reality of Faulkner’s declaration, “The past is never dead, it’s not even past.” We are now several years into revisiting the issues that shaped Grant’s service in the Civil War and the White House, from the rise of white supremacy groups to successful attacks on the right of eligible citizens to vote to the economic inequalities of the Gilded Age. In so many ways “Grant” comes to us now as much a mirror as a history lesson. As history, it is remarkable, full of fascinating details sure to make it interesting both to those with the most cursory knowledge of Grant’s life and to those who have read his memoirs or any of several previous biographies. It tells well the story of a country boy’s unlikely path to leadership, his peculiarities, strengths, blind spots and uncanny powers of concentration and courage during battle. It covers Grant’s amazing feats on horseback at West Point, where in jumping hurdles “he exceeded all rivals,” clearing the bar a foot higher than other cadets. His mediocre grades have long obscured his interests and abilities: He was president of the literary society, had a talent for drawing and was trusted by classmates to mediate disputes.
For all its scholarly and literary strengths, this book’s greatest service is to remind us of Grant’s significant achievements at the end of the war and after, which have too long been overlooked and are too important today to be left in the dark. Considered by many detractors to be, as a general, little more than a stoic butcher, Grant, in the written terms of surrender at Appomattox, showed the empathy he felt toward the defeated and downtrodden — conditions he knew from harsh personal experience. The terms presented to Robert E. Lee carried “no tinge of malice” and “breathed a spirit of charity reminiscent of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address.” He notably allowed the exhausted and starving Confederate regulars to keep their mules and horses, knowing from the rough experience of his failed Missouri farm (Grant presciently named its log cabin “Hardscrabble”) that only by putting in a crop as soon as they returned home would these destitute farmers — and their families — have a chance to survive the coming winter. Grant also knew that if the country had any chance of being brought back together, it needed something other than a harsh peace. In making national healing a priority, he — like Lincoln — took the long view.