Earlier this year a friend posted on Facebook about the bicentennial of Ulysses S. Grant (April 22). I quickly realized how little I knew about the 18th President. I knew he had been a general, and was the commander of Union forces who accepted the surrender of Robert E. Lee at Appomattox. He also had a reputation for being (depending on to whom you listened) a heavy drinker or a drunk. I also believed that his administration was wracked with scandal.
The book by Ron Chernow is massive. The copy I borrowed was in large print - and the text ran to 1,289. Those pages are followed by another 190 pages of notes, bibliography, and photo/illustration credits. (It is a pretty fat book at 1,479 pages!)
Grant was much more than just a general and a drunk. While this biography talks about his drinking issues, Chernow notes that whatever drinking Grant did was away from any significant activities. He was not ever drunk during a battle or a crucial time in his administration. Some of that credit belongs to one of his personal assistants, and to his wife Julia. He did have a "drinking problem," but especially at the end of his life, he seemed to be able to control it. According to this biography, he never drank leading up to and during a battle. He would occasionally go on binges. There were two people who helped reign him in, one was his wife Julia, and the other a long-suffering and long-serving assistant John A. Rawlins. It's a fascinating relationship, and there is one (much shorter) version of the story on History.net.
I strongly recommend the book. The description of Grant's political acumen and actions as President were not something I had known about. The election of his successor ushered in the era of Jim Crow, which undermined much of what Grant tried to do as both a General and as the President.
The very end of his life was sad in that he rushed to finish his memoirs (published by Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain) in order to leave funds for his wife. The next time I drive east, I will try to visit both his tomb (in New York City) and where he spent much of his final time writing in Saratoga Springs (NY). I suppose, his version of his life should be added to my reading list!