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Lee and Grant: A Dual Biography

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A biography of the two gifted Civil War commanders from a New York Times–bestselling author: “A great story . . . History at its best” (Publishers Weekly). Their names are forever linked in the history of the Civil War, but Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant could not have been more dissimilar. Lee came from a world of Southern gentility and aristocratic privilege while Gr A biography of the two gifted Civil War commanders from a New York Times–bestselling author: “A great story . . . History at its best” (Publishers Weekly). Their names are forever linked in the history of the Civil War, but Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant could not have been more dissimilar. Lee came from a world of Southern gentility and aristocratic privilege while Grant had coarser, more common roots in the Midwest. As a young officer trained in the classic mold, Lee graduated from West Point at the top of his class and served with distinction in the Mexican–American War. Grant’s early military career was undistinguished and marred by rumors of drunkenness.   As commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, Lee’s early victories demoralized the Union Army and cemented his reputation as a brilliant tactician. Meanwhile, Grant struggled mightily to reach the top of the Union command chain. His iron will eventually helped turn the tide of the war, however, and in April 1864, President Abraham Lincoln gave Grant command of all Union forces. A year later, he accepted Lee’s surrender at the Appomattox Court House.   With brilliance and deep feeling, New York Times–bestselling author Gene Smith brings the Civil War era to vivid life and tells the dramatic story of two remarkable men as they rise to glory and reckon with the bitter aftermath of the bloodiest conflict in American history. Never before have students of American history been treated to a more personal, comprehensive, and achingly human portrait of Lee and Grant.  


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A biography of the two gifted Civil War commanders from a New York Times–bestselling author: “A great story . . . History at its best” (Publishers Weekly). Their names are forever linked in the history of the Civil War, but Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant could not have been more dissimilar. Lee came from a world of Southern gentility and aristocratic privilege while Gr A biography of the two gifted Civil War commanders from a New York Times–bestselling author: “A great story . . . History at its best” (Publishers Weekly). Their names are forever linked in the history of the Civil War, but Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant could not have been more dissimilar. Lee came from a world of Southern gentility and aristocratic privilege while Grant had coarser, more common roots in the Midwest. As a young officer trained in the classic mold, Lee graduated from West Point at the top of his class and served with distinction in the Mexican–American War. Grant’s early military career was undistinguished and marred by rumors of drunkenness.   As commander of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia, Lee’s early victories demoralized the Union Army and cemented his reputation as a brilliant tactician. Meanwhile, Grant struggled mightily to reach the top of the Union command chain. His iron will eventually helped turn the tide of the war, however, and in April 1864, President Abraham Lincoln gave Grant command of all Union forces. A year later, he accepted Lee’s surrender at the Appomattox Court House.   With brilliance and deep feeling, New York Times–bestselling author Gene Smith brings the Civil War era to vivid life and tells the dramatic story of two remarkable men as they rise to glory and reckon with the bitter aftermath of the bloodiest conflict in American history. Never before have students of American history been treated to a more personal, comprehensive, and achingly human portrait of Lee and Grant.  

30 review for Lee and Grant: A Dual Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jerry

    History was always my worst subject in school; even when it comes to literature, I prefer fiction that takes place in yesteryear instead of true stories. Still, this one was good for what it was.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Anna

    A great dual biography of Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee, of course also with excellent Civil War knowledge. I liked that the format went -Lee Chapter, Grant Chapter, Lee Chapter, Grant Chapter- the switching off made it feel like you were learning the maximum amount about both men, and keeping the events in chronological order made it easy to look at the next chapter and compare to see what Grant was doing whilst at the same time Lee had been doing [insert thing from previous chapter]. For A great dual biography of Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee, of course also with excellent Civil War knowledge. I liked that the format went -Lee Chapter, Grant Chapter, Lee Chapter, Grant Chapter- the switching off made it feel like you were learning the maximum amount about both men, and keeping the events in chronological order made it easy to look at the next chapter and compare to see what Grant was doing whilst at the same time Lee had been doing [insert thing from previous chapter]. For true Civil War history buffs.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ryan Winfield

    This was a follow up for me to "Grant" by Ron Chernow. It wasn't as sweeping in scope, shorter and mostly focussed on the war, nor as well written, but it was a great companion in that it alternates between Grant and Lee, providing interesting context on the course of their lives, and the conflicts that would lead to their shared destiny at Appomattox. This was a follow up for me to "Grant" by Ron Chernow. It wasn't as sweeping in scope, shorter and mostly focussed on the war, nor as well written, but it was a great companion in that it alternates between Grant and Lee, providing interesting context on the course of their lives, and the conflicts that would lead to their shared destiny at Appomattox.

  4. 4 out of 5

    gwen graves

    I really liked the idea of going back and forth with between Grant and Lee’s lives. I of course enjoyed reading about Grant as he is a relative of mine. His mother and my great great great grandmother were sisters.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jacob

    This is written in the old-school heroic, big men of history style. As such it has some pointed flaws and glosses over certain points. For example, Lee is portrayed as a reluctant soldier of the Confederacy with almost no mention of his ownership of slaves and Grant is portrayed as so incredibly naive that he had absolutely no idea of the corruption rampant in his government despite his clear nepotism as president. So why 4 stars? It was a compelling narrative wherein the author tried to get at t This is written in the old-school heroic, big men of history style. As such it has some pointed flaws and glosses over certain points. For example, Lee is portrayed as a reluctant soldier of the Confederacy with almost no mention of his ownership of slaves and Grant is portrayed as so incredibly naive that he had absolutely no idea of the corruption rampant in his government despite his clear nepotism as president. So why 4 stars? It was a compelling narrative wherein the author tried to get at the essence of these men. The author seemed less interested in trying to paint a politicized narrative and more interested in revealing the little knowns in the trajectory of their lives. I found Grant's story particularly fascinating, with its incredible ups and downs. If you don't know much about these men and the Civil War, this is actually a great book to introduce you to the topic. Even if you know a lot and are leery of a simplified narrative that concentrates on individuals, I still think this was a great read. Take it off the shelf and give it a try, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Sean Chick

    Well written and offers good descriptions of the two generals, but lacks in detail and analysis. Also many assumptions about the war and the personalties are accepted at face value. Sometimes the facts and opinions don't mix with the record, like when Smith says Lee surprised Grant in the Wilderness, something no other general had done. Did Smith forget Shiloh and Fort Donelson? The author also says Lee's tactics were antiquated although Grant ordered many pointless frontal attacks. Stay way fro Well written and offers good descriptions of the two generals, but lacks in detail and analysis. Also many assumptions about the war and the personalties are accepted at face value. Sometimes the facts and opinions don't mix with the record, like when Smith says Lee surprised Grant in the Wilderness, something no other general had done. Did Smith forget Shiloh and Fort Donelson? The author also says Lee's tactics were antiquated although Grant ordered many pointless frontal attacks. Stay way from this book if you have knowledge of the war and these men. Otherwise it is a good introduction, but nothing more.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Bethany

    I wasn’t sure whether to do 4 or 5 stars. The ending was a little slow for me, but everything up until the end of the civil war was fascinating and well-written. I really enjoyed this book and found myself neglecting other things just to sit and read it. These two men are amazing and hearing their life stories was very interesting. I liked the side-by-side comparison. I am not a history buff and have never been great about reading non-fiction, but this went by quickly for me and I am so glad I r I wasn’t sure whether to do 4 or 5 stars. The ending was a little slow for me, but everything up until the end of the civil war was fascinating and well-written. I really enjoyed this book and found myself neglecting other things just to sit and read it. These two men are amazing and hearing their life stories was very interesting. I liked the side-by-side comparison. I am not a history buff and have never been great about reading non-fiction, but this went by quickly for me and I am so glad I read it.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Eileen McCauley

    History light with misrepresentation of Grant's presidency. There was no mention of Grant's efforts to protect African Americans in the South. Another historian wrote that Grant was the last president until the mid 20th century to try to help southern African Americans. Grant also had an enlighten for the time attitude to Native Americans. None of this is mention. There were little digs about Grant getting stout and his daughter having an unhappy marriage while nothing similar was said about Lee History light with misrepresentation of Grant's presidency. There was no mention of Grant's efforts to protect African Americans in the South. Another historian wrote that Grant was the last president until the mid 20th century to try to help southern African Americans. Grant also had an enlighten for the time attitude to Native Americans. None of this is mention. There were little digs about Grant getting stout and his daughter having an unhappy marriage while nothing similar was said about Lee.

  9. 4 out of 5

    John Kaminar

    I loved these parallel biographies of Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant. The author takes us through various periods of the subjects’ lives to illustrate similarities and differences, doing so with the skill of a gifted storyteller. The men’s stories are sprinkled with interesting vignettes that illustrate how little, and yet how much, these great combat leaders had in common. When I finished this excellent book, I felt as though I knew personally two of the greatest soldiers in American histor I loved these parallel biographies of Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant. The author takes us through various periods of the subjects’ lives to illustrate similarities and differences, doing so with the skill of a gifted storyteller. The men’s stories are sprinkled with interesting vignettes that illustrate how little, and yet how much, these great combat leaders had in common. When I finished this excellent book, I felt as though I knew personally two of the greatest soldiers in American history.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

    I liked the aspect of this book being a dual biography of the two preeminent men in the war who incidentally opposed each other. These two great men of character will forever be linked as the book shows. I liked how the book highlights each of them from there family beginnings before they were even born. The book is over 35 years old as of 2019 however I still found it relevant and incredibly detailed

  11. 5 out of 5

    JK Muma

    Lived it, great matching of tales. The author was truly able to tell the tales as if they were one. Loved the flow of the writing and the depths of the stories. Hearty recommend ing of this book.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Steven

    An interesting if flawed biography of two fascinating men. It regales in Lee as a honoured man and finds flaw after flaw in Grant right to the end, completely ignoring his accomplishments in Reconstruction. It does offer a detailed look at the lives but sadly very biased.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Berger

    Gripping and tremendously moving.

  14. 5 out of 5

    John Breidinger

    Excellent A History major, I learned a great deal from Mr. Smith’s book! it was well written and enjoyable. I will read more of his work!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Mike Larsen

    A "must read" for any history buff. A "must read" for any history buff.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. This book is a perfect introduction to the Civil War era. I have only read a fraction worth of the Civil War era and no virtually nothing of the Confederate side, Lee, and only know a bit about Grant from Abe Lincoln and Mrs. Lincoln's point of view. I like how the backgrounds of each men were explored. Lee, was practically Washington's heir, as closed as there could have been, and he betrayed his Uniform, his county, when Virginia seceded from the Union. It was not his personal opinion to seced This book is a perfect introduction to the Civil War era. I have only read a fraction worth of the Civil War era and no virtually nothing of the Confederate side, Lee, and only know a bit about Grant from Abe Lincoln and Mrs. Lincoln's point of view. I like how the backgrounds of each men were explored. Lee, was practically Washington's heir, as closed as there could have been, and he betrayed his Uniform, his county, when Virginia seceded from the Union. It was not his personal opinion to seceded, he argued against it. I truly enjoyed the dirty background of Robert E. Lee's family background, regarding Black Horse Harry Lee, Lee's half brother. It was interesting how it slimmed his marriage changes, however I do think his wife cared for him very much so and it was a fine marriage, to one of Martha Washington's granddaughter. Grant's mother was particular interesting, never showing emotion, while his father always seemed disappointed. I also liked the insight of Grant's marriage. Julia seemed to have such a positive hold over her husband. He seemed to adore her, clearly they married for love. I have a huge crush on President Lincoln and love his quote on Grant "Some of our folks think him slow and want me to remove him. But, to tell the truth, I kind of like U.S. Grant. He doesn't worry and bother me. He isn't shrieking for reinforcements all the time. He takes what troops we can safely give him considering our big job all around - and we have a pretty big job in this war - and does as best as he can with what he's got and doesn't grumble and scold all the while. Yes, I confess I Like General Grant - U.S. Grant - Uncle Same Grant!" I think it sums up perfectly how Grant treated the Civil War. He did the best with what he had, he made do, always. Grant was not a speechmaker. He never did, never once rallied his man up for battle however, his men fought for him, the loyalty the men of the Union showed him was earned by Grant himself. Grant was the Man, he become the County for the Union Soldiers. Grant was the second man to hold the rank Lieutenant General, previously being held by Washington. After the Civil War, Grant become the first 4 star general in America. Lee was on the wrong side of history, he did not pick the right battle. Near the end of the Civil War, it was heartbreaking to read. Such a noble, proud man knowing that he lost, he was on the wrong side. He kept up appearances and rarely appeared depressed. Lee become President of a College in Virginia. He seemed to grow in that role. However, he was a lifelong solider and had different methods than Professors at the school. His college had the first journalism class ever in America and he abolished the mandatory course and chose an elective course instead for his school. Grants Presidency was touched on as well in this book, he was not as successful as a President as he was as a General in the Civil War. The people that Grant surrounded himself with were mostly relatives of former soldiers. Grant was so unpopular as president the word "Grantism" was invented to mean dirty politics. Somehow his name was put into the ring again and he served two term. 4 years and 3 weeks since Lee surrounded his Confederate Army to Grant did the two men meet again. Grant was president, and made a joke that Lee did not react to. Lee made no mention of the conversation ever, not even to his wife. The two men talked for 15 minutes on their own and just walked away again. Grant's death sounded immensely painful, cancer of the throat it seemed like it, having spread into his naval and ear cavities. He received a funeral procession similar to one of President Lincoln's. Lee in his old age traveled with a daughter throughout the South and also received a Hero's Welcome along the way.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Alan Rohwer

    This was a re-read. It went pretty fast. I liked the juxtaposition of the two titled characters & the history context for each.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    The idea of comparing these two iconic figures in a single book seems logical. The author, I think, adds some suspense to the reading by swinging back and forth between the stories of these two men at points of common ground. Seemingly well researched, the author spends a sizeable amount of time to the pre-Civil War lives of Lee and Grant. This is good, because it is the less known parts of their lives. The post war years also get decent treatment. It's a smart move by the author not to overly r The idea of comparing these two iconic figures in a single book seems logical. The author, I think, adds some suspense to the reading by swinging back and forth between the stories of these two men at points of common ground. Seemingly well researched, the author spends a sizeable amount of time to the pre-Civil War lives of Lee and Grant. This is good, because it is the less known parts of their lives. The post war years also get decent treatment. It's a smart move by the author not to overly reharsh the parts of the story we already know. If I were to criticize the writing, I would focus on only two points. First, the "early years" information seems overly long without explaining much about how those experiences helped to forge their future personalities. Second, the juxtaposition between Lee as the Scion of the Old South and Grant as the Ideal of the New North should have been driven home earlier. I think those changes might have helped turn this "good" dual biography into something special. My minor criticisms aside, this is a fine addition to the bookshelf of the Civil War buff in your life. Informative, well structured and not exhaustingly long, it's an enjoyable book.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Lori

    Historial fiction & non-fictional are my favorite genres; and I am particularly interested in American History. Details that the author provided about Robert E. Lee & Ulysses S. Grant were enlightening; and the author did a decent job of personalizing these historical figures with anecdotes about their families and lifestyles that I enjoyed. I think the technique of switching between Lee & Grant was effective, overall, but this was a slow read for me and the author's writing style was melodramat Historial fiction & non-fictional are my favorite genres; and I am particularly interested in American History. Details that the author provided about Robert E. Lee & Ulysses S. Grant were enlightening; and the author did a decent job of personalizing these historical figures with anecdotes about their families and lifestyles that I enjoyed. I think the technique of switching between Lee & Grant was effective, overall, but this was a slow read for me and the author's writing style was melodramatic in parts....The positives that linger in my mind are the vivid contrasts between the backgrounds of Lee & Grant, the inspiring manner in which Grant rose to greatness from very humble beginnings, and how each man responded differently to fame.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Clark

    I gained a deeper appreciation for the sacrifices and smarts of the Civil War and history. Let's not repeat the mistakes both personal and national. Let's remember and multiply wisdom and the noble. The cost of Freedom ever has and will continue to be high but nothing is more important. Wonderfully written book, it makes me want to read Grant's Auto biography, more read than Twain's Huckleberry Fin said the author. I gained a deeper appreciation for the sacrifices and smarts of the Civil War and history. Let's not repeat the mistakes both personal and national. Let's remember and multiply wisdom and the noble. The cost of Freedom ever has and will continue to be high but nothing is more important. Wonderfully written book, it makes me want to read Grant's Auto biography, more read than Twain's Huckleberry Fin said the author.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Linda

    At least the third time I've read this superb dual biography of the two men who defined the American Civil War. 2011-2015 is the 150th anniversary of the war with many states planning commemorative events, particularly at National Park battlefields. I am using it as an occasion to read the Civil War books that have been on my life list for years: Mary Chestnut's diaries and Grant's memoirs. At least the third time I've read this superb dual biography of the two men who defined the American Civil War. 2011-2015 is the 150th anniversary of the war with many states planning commemorative events, particularly at National Park battlefields. I am using it as an occasion to read the Civil War books that have been on my life list for years: Mary Chestnut's diaries and Grant's memoirs.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Barbara Lovejoy

    LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley mentioned this book in a talk he gave at a BYU Devotional. Not only did I feel any book Pres. Hinckley read would be a good one to read but also my love for history attracted me to it. I was not disappointed. The author did a fabulous job of interweaving the lives of these two incredible men. It's a book I will want to read again. LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley mentioned this book in a talk he gave at a BYU Devotional. Not only did I feel any book Pres. Hinckley read would be a good one to read but also my love for history attracted me to it. I was not disappointed. The author did a fabulous job of interweaving the lives of these two incredible men. It's a book I will want to read again.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Wendi Enright

    Condensed 1984. Perhaps the first time I have come anywhere close to understanding the south's side, and still couldn't get there. It was a great book, and the author did a beautiful job of personalizing both Grant and Lee. But no matter how you try to sugar coat it, Lee was fighting to keep slavery, and he knew it. Condensed 1984. Perhaps the first time I have come anywhere close to understanding the south's side, and still couldn't get there. It was a great book, and the author did a beautiful job of personalizing both Grant and Lee. But no matter how you try to sugar coat it, Lee was fighting to keep slavery, and he knew it.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    Well written, and seemingly well-documented. My husband did point out that this book does take a bit of a slant. Some of the opinions stated leaned away from my conservative views. I still loved it!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Ken

    This may be the best book I have ever read. Instantly turned me into a civil war buff. I have loaned this book out three times and each person loved it. May start out a little slow for some, but when it takes off, hang on for the ride.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Robert W. Gruen

    Good book, but excessive trivial detail. Grant was a great general. He probably could not have survived today's nomination and election process. I learned new things about the man but there was excessive trivial detail. Good book, but excessive trivial detail. Grant was a great general. He probably could not have survived today's nomination and election process. I learned new things about the man but there was excessive trivial detail.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jason

    Not the best book I've read on the Civil War, but it takes an interesting approach and is generally well written. A good introduction to the Civil War, if one hasn't read much about the era. Not the best book I've read on the Civil War, but it takes an interesting approach and is generally well written. A good introduction to the Civil War, if one hasn't read much about the era.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Maureen M

    Revealing histories of the early years of Lee and Grant and how their different experiences drove them to the same battles on opposing sides.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Fanugee

    I never read much about the Civil War and being a resident of IL I knew much about Grant and littel about Lee. This was great history lesson for me.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    Excellent read for the Civil War enthusiast. Though Grant is painted in more of a negative light than more recent works about him, I would definitely recommend this book.

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