Author: cubsmodano

“Blood Memory” by Greg Iles Review

blood memory

Blood Memory

Author:  Greg Iles

Released:  2005

Blood Memory tells the story of a Forensic Dentist named Cat Ferry. What does that mean? Cat is called into murder scenes to analyze bite marks and other dental related evidence. It sounds like a very specialized field, and it must be because every other character in the book tends to enable Cat to run around like she is the most important person in the universe. While the New Orleans Police Department and FBI are working together to solve a serial killer’s string of crimes leaving bite marks on nude men, Cat goes rogue throughout the novel confronting witnesses, discovering clues and eventually solving every mystery in this story packed full of them.

I can’t discuss much further in the plot without revealing a big component of the story, so if you want to go in blind skip past this paragraph. **Spoilers follow** The bulk of this story deals with child molesters, and links the killer, victims and protagonist together at various points. Cat must figure out how her own history relates to this subject as she does not remember, as well as solving the murder of her father when she was eight years old. **End of mild spoilers** Cat’s own history ends up serving as a crutch and an excuse for her to put herself in dangerous situations, disregard law enforcement and even get involved in fatal situations herself because she MUST solve the mystery of her childhood. Therein lies my biggest problems with this book.

Despite trying to assist the FBI and New Orleans police department, Cat will put herself in situations when she must escape from police custody, confront known murderers on her own, and jeopardize the evidence in a serial killer case with regularity. Her boyfriend, a married detective enables her because she is attractive and awesome at sex. The FBI agent enables her because… I don’t know, he knows the rest of the characters in this book got ZERO DRIVE and won’t be solving any crimes on their own.

The dangerous situations she puts herself in end up getting multiple people shot and killed, for no apparent reason other than to hype up the drama in villain monologues and a rape sequence. If you have problems reading about sexual abuse, incest, or rape this is not a book for you. I don’t fault Iles for using those devices, as the entire plot of the book depends on several characters having depraved sexual appetites. However at 800 pages, the repeated revelations on who was molesting who got tedious.

That’s not to say the book was all bad. Iles did a nice job of pacing in this book, making it feel like we lived with the protagonist over a series of several days and didn’t miss anything in her life. The whole thing felt like 24 at times. He also sets out plenty of mysteries, and ties them together in a satisfying fashion. The entitlement of the main character as well as the plethora of wooden supporting characters however really dimmed my enjoyment of the book overall.

2-star

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“Waterloo” by Bernard Cornwell Review

Waterloo

Waterloo

Author:  Bernard Cornwell

Released:  1990

Waterloo is special in a few respects in the Sharpe series. Most noticeably, it’s the only book in the series without the word “Sharpe” in the title. **Spoiler alert for world history** It’s also the culmination of the Napoleonic War between England and France which also engulfed Portugal, Spain, Prussia, Belgium and others. Waterloo takes place after a brief cease fire between France and England, with Sharpe now serving the inexperienced Prince of Orange leading Wellington’s Dutch troops. Sharpe has also settled down with a French widow, while Harper is out of the army all together and married as well.

On the positive side, Waterloo features one of the most historically accurate battles in the entire series, as Waterloo has had more written about it than any other event from the previous 19 books. Sharpe also has a side storyline that is very fun involving his wife Jane and her new suitor. The contrast between the ignorant on social graces Sharpe, and Jane’s stately but cowardly new man provides the book’s best moments. The historical note at the end also provides some great details about the events in the book happening in real life.

My biggest gripe about this book though is that it really lacks the Sharpe as central driving force narrative of the rest of the series. The battle was well written, but it was also about half of the book and lacked a lot of the character moments one expects in a Sharpe book. The deaths of several recurring characters also felt cheapened as they were no longer even featured in this book except to mention their deaths during the battle.

Harper’s role in the book is also very odd. No matter how loyal he is to Sharpe, the mechanism of getting him out of the army and then reinserting him into the chain of command for Waterloo felt unnecessary and convoluted. The book sorely missed characters like Sweet William, depending more on Sharpe and Harper’s banter which suffered from the aforementioned situation. I’m glad that Cornwell has since added another book and short story to the series, as although this capped off the war that has been the driving force for the series, something more focused on the protagonist would be a much more fitting conclusion.

3 star

“The Infinity Entity” by Jim Starlin, Alan Davis and Ron Lim Review

Infinity Entity

The Infinity Entity

Writer:  Jim Starlin

Artists:  Alan Davis and Ron Lim

Released:  2016

Collects:  The Infinity Entity #1-4 and Thanos Annual #1

This story takes place in between The Infinity Relativity and The Infinity Finale. I already read both of those and didn’t feel like anything was missing, so this felt pretty non-essential. The four issue story follows around Adam Warlock who has no memory of why Time and Space are being wiped out. He takes some interesting detours to figure it out, including time traveling to an original Avengers meeting and having a discussion with all of the cosmic entities that govern the universe. The story seems to tie in to some previous events with a certain devil analog character that didn’t quite deliver on a pay off set up in issue one.

Also included here is a Thanos annual that tells the story of when Thanos has the Infinity Gauntlet and he sent several projections of himself to answer questions before he would lose it (possessing the time gem, he was aware right away he would lose the Gauntlet, and is able to visit younger versions of himself). The story doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it was a lot of fun and the best part of this trade paperback not named Alan Davis. Seriously, Alan Davis is amazing. The art in this book is fantastic (Ron Lim is also always reliable).

3 star

“Secret Circles” by F. Paul Wilson Review

Secret Circles

Secret Circles

Author:  F. Paul Wilson

Released: 2010

Secret Circles is the 2nd book in the Repairman Jack Young Adult series. I’m going back and reading these after completing the main adult series so some of the mystery of what’s going on is gone but I can spot all the Easter eggs hidden for the readers. This book picks up shortly after the first book in the series but is self contained enough that it could be read on its own. The main plot point that carries over from the two books is a missing artifact that Jack and Weezy found in the Pines that had odd symbols on it. Weezy blames the mysterious Lodge in town with stealing the artifact. This plot point drives much of the action in the book, but Wilson summarizes what happens enough to catch everybody up on the situation.

Each book in this series features some mystery components, along with a situation that Jack must “fix.” In his adult life, Jack takes care of these situations for a living, but as a youth he is driven by his moral compass. In Secret Circles, Jack is faced with a missing five year old, a neighbor abusing his family, and recovering Weezy’s stolen pyramid. Along the way, he’ll deal with a Circus in town, mysterious creatures out in the Pines, and confront Ernst Drexler, the Lodge’s actuator who will have a major role later in the series.

In addition to serving as prequel fan service for fans of the series, Wilson tries to cater this book more to young readers but I worry he overdoes it on his character’s naiveté. While Jack and Weezy (and her brother Eddie) all still ride around town in bikes, Weezy’s love interest has a driver’s license and Jack is running a business while the owner is out of town. The characters make intelligent plans and deal with life and death issues, but seem pretty clueless about whether or not they’re interested in dating or not.

The climax of this book pulls a major concept from the Adversary Cycle book The Touch, and makes it much more questionable why Jack is such a skeptic at the start of The Tomb. With FOUR more prequels still to go (one more as a youth, and three after Jack moves to New York) my worry about the continuity of this series not holding up is feeling more justified. While the individual stories can be fun, if they don’t fit with the rest of the series or actively contradict what we know later on, I’d rather they not exist. That’s just my two cents, and Wilson is skirting the line but he’s not there yet. What’s wrong with just telling some good “Fix-it” stories and more about how Jack became so skilled? Not everything that happens to him should tie into the Secret History of the World saga,

3 star

“The Fever” by Megan Abbott Review

The Fever

The Fever

Author:  Megan Abbott

Released:  2014

This was the second book I’ve read by Megan Abbott, following the entertaining Dare Me. Based just on these two books, I would describe her genre as adult fiction focusing on teenage girls involved in murder plots. Nick Hornby turned me on to Ms. Abbott, and I’m glad he did. Abbott has a habit of making the locations and setting of the books feel like they could take place anywhere, and any time (after the invention of cell phones). I’m surprised more of them haven’t been turned into movies yet.

The Fever is follows around several characters with very connected lives. The main character is Deenie, a teenage girl whose best friends (Lise, Gabby), occasional rival (Skye) and family (dad Tom and brother Eli) comprise the rest of the perspective characters. When Lise has a medical emergency in school, everybody is shocked and worried as she ends up in a coma with life threatening symptoms. However, when Gabby also has a medical episode at school the worry spreads to panic. When a third girl begins to get sick, the titular fever has become a craze among the students, parents and faculty of the school.

My biggest complaint with this book was that despite the seriousness of the situation for all the girls involved, they preferred to keep everything so secret that it really hamstrung everybody from finding out what was wrong. In particular, there is a huge reluctance to discuss having swam in a possibly contaminated lake. I understand the characters were not supposed to swim in the lake but when it looks like people could be dying it seems like the type of detail you’d want to mention to a medical professional. (I won’t spoil whether that ends up being pertinent or not.)

Abbott delayed providing answers for so long that I started to get antsy about whether the payoff would be worth it. Surprisingly it was, and I didn’t find it as predictable as the ending of Dare Me; here I guessed what was wrong with most of the girls but did not figure the initiating event ahead of time. The character that really stood out to me was Skye, particularly with how Deenie was instantly jealous of/threatened by her. It was the sort of thing that felt much more authentic that what I find in books with teenage characters. There was also a very sexual component to the book that was handled much better than I usually find in writing. The characters are all aware of/interested in sex, but Abbott doesn’t spend time detailing the exploits beyond telling the reader what’s happening.

I’ve read some other reviews where people have problems with the character Tom, particularly how he leers at some of Deenie’s teenage friends. While each of Abbott’s characters was flawed in certain ways in this book (jealousy, selfishness, dishonesty being the most common), Tom’s flaws seemed to revolve around his relationships with women. The leering behavior amounted to three or four sentences throughout the book (much more, if you count an adult french teacher) and contributed to his feeling like a fully formed character instead of just the great dad that stuck around when mom didn’t. All of the characters felt like real people, likable at times but not all the time.

4-star

“The Valley of Horses” by Jean M. Auel Review

Valley of Horses

The Valley of Horses

Author:  Jean M. Auel

Released: 1982

My favorite book I read last year was The Clan of the Cave Bear, so I was very excited to dive in to its sequel The Valley of Horses. While I still enjoyed this book, it was definitely a notch below in my enjoyment level. I can pinpoint exactly why it didn’t work for me, and the reason is spelled J O N D A L A R.

Before I complain more about him however, I’ll sing some more praise for this series. I love the character of Ayla. A human child raised by Neanderthals, she is Tarzan and the Cesar Milar rolled into one. Auel does a fantastic job of explaining how Ayla comes to be so special in all her skills, as a way of compensating for how her mind worked differently from those that raised her. Over the course of this novel, Ayla comes up with new weapons and tools unlike anything used by either form of man, and continues her tradition of taking in small animals (but this time with much larger creatures). Even without the supporting cast of characters from the first novel, Ayla can carry a story on her own just fine.

Half of the novel follows Ayla, the other half follows two normal (cro magnon) men named Jondaloar and Thonolan. These are our first characters from our race that we meet in this series, and the two brothers are taking an extended journey together over a period of three years. We always know that one or both characters is on a collision course with Ayla, but unfortunately until that happens the two men are nowhere near as fascinating as the book’s other protagonist. Thonolan is OK. He’s a normal man who has a good sense of humor and is looking for love. I found him to be fairly easy to relate to.

His brother is Jondalar. I can only describe him as Christian Grey from prehistoric times (minus the bondage) (so far). Jondalar is tall, blonde, with blue eyes and every woman wants to have sex with him. It’s a good thing too, because if there’s one thing Jondalar is awesome at it’s having sex. For starters, he’s got a giant penis, which Auel references frequently throughout the book. More importantly though, he’s an expert at pleasuring females. Jondalar is often called on to be the first mate for young females because he is a generous lover and makes it so wonderful for them. Sure he also makes tools and is a good brother, but as somebody calls him later in the book he is a “woman maker.”

There was sex in the first book of the series, however it was almost animal in its quality (and considering Ayla was 11 when it took place the sex was particularly awful in its circumstances). In The Valley of the Horses Jondalar brings pleasure to virgins, widows, and everything in between, with a seeming special circumstance for every intercourse interlude. It was so much sex at times that I longed for another discussion of tool making with stone and sinew. In addition, Jondalar was particularly understanding and sensitive for all other issues. Compared to the men of the first books Clan, this particular character didn’t feel real for his time period.

If this book was just the pages with Ayla, I’d probably still give it a five, even with the end of the book having some of the over the top issues mentioned above. If it was just the Jondalar and Thonolan story, it’s be closer to a 2. I’m giving the book a four, but it’s actually more of a 3.5 for the exact scorers out there.

4-star

“Grant” by Ron Chernow Review

Grant

Grant

Author:  Ron Chernow

Released:  2017

Grant has been vilified as an incompetent president for the scandals on his watch. Attacking him on that issue became a convenient tool for Reconstruction opponents who sensationalized his failings through congressional hearings and a strident press. But corruption had flourished in American politics since the heyday of Andrew Jackson. Page 854

It’s difficult to look objectively at modern politicians without the context of an historical overview. One gets the impression that living through Grant’s two terms as president was a daily barrage of scandals that would seriously damage the credibility of the man holding office. In addition, his actions that are most favorable historically were severely opposed by half of the country, and only moderately supported by the other half. With over 100 years of hindsight, Grant stands as one of the great presidents due to his accomplishments and policies in office; the numerous scandals appear much more minor in significance.

Certainly there are other factors as to why Grant stands so well regarded. His meteoric rise to General of the Northern army during the Civil War would guarantee him a prominent place in American History even had he never taken office. If there’s one take away I got from reading Chernow’s book however, it’s that flawed men (or even deeply flawed administrations) can still be the right individuals for the job.

Born into – Born Hiram Ulysses Grant in southern Ohio, the man famously known as U.S. Grant actually had a different name. Not until a clerical mistake in his enrollment at West Pointe did he become Ulysses S. Grant, with no middle name attached to it. Grant’s father Jesse ran a tannery (Grant had zero interest in this, hating both the smell and the wanton slaughter of animals), and had habit of moving to bigger cities every few years. Jesse was eventually even successful enough to be elected mayor. The Grant family was original democrat, but switched to the Whig party (and strong abolitionist) around the time of William Henry Harrison’s presidential election.

Early stories of Grant are very reminiscent of George Washington. Grant was very a honest child. Instead of a cherry tree, the best anecdote that has been passed down about Grant was when he was tasked with negotiating to buy his dad a horse. “I’m to offer you $20 first, but to go up to $25 if that’s what it takes” he told the seller. Grant purportedly didn’t flinch at hearing gun shots at the age of 2, and could ride a wild horse on one foot by age 5 (this one seems more likely as stories of his horseback riding prowess occur throughout his military career).

Grant’s Early education was modest, but his father was able to pull strings to get Grant sent to West Point. This involved getting a sponsor that was a Congressman. Grant didn’t want to go as he didn’t believe he could succeed there. Once enrolled it gave him a strong sense of loyalty to the United States government and the concept of the Union. 2.5 out of 5.

Pre-President – Grant graduated from West Point as a private in the middle of his class; however looking at the number of candidates who began in class with him and then dropped out, he was in better than top 25% of candidates overall. From West Point he was then dispatched to St. Louis before getting involved in the Mexican American War conflict. Grant began the war as a Lieutenant and was successful across the board during the war. Eventually he was promoted to Quartermaster, which although was much less flashy than some roles during the war, certainly prepared him for the complicated logistics of running the entire military later on in his career. Grant served first under Zachary Taylor, who Grant respected and emulated. As a soldier, there were no allegations that Grant was anything but brave and willing in battle, and one incident where he raced a horse through enemy territory was regaled for years afterward. When Winfield Scott took over, Grant praised his military mind but little else about the man. After the Mexican American War, Grant was involved in the Temperance movement and swore off alcohol. There were the beginnings of signs that he had a drinking problem and was aware of it. When he was stationed in California without his wife and (at that time) two children he resumed drinking.

Grant’s first exit from the military is an amazing story of what somebody can bounce back from. When he was transferred to a different commanding officer in California, Grant was put on notice for his drinking problem. Essentially, he was made to write a resignation and leave it undated, with the understanding that if he had another drunken episode he would have to resign. Grant had another drunken episode, and resigned (as a Captain). He tried to get back home to his family including one child he had never met and was nearly two years old. Everybody that Grant did business with or had invested money with ended up being a crook and Grant was penniless and stranded on the wrong side of the country. Eventually he got a free ride to New York, where he stayed until being rescued by his family (there is some historical evidence he was even jailed for drunken behavior at this time). Once he got back to his wife, his options were limited and his best one was to farm the 60 acres her parents had given for their wedding and sell wood in the winter time. His financial troubles continued for years, until he went back to Illinois to work for one of his dad’s companies (and below his two younger brothers) as a clerk. The timing on this was fortuitous however, as it placed him an area where he could rapidly advance in the military as the Civil War began.

Given the initial rank of Colonel in Illinois army, Grant was quickly promoted to Brigadier General before any conflicts even took place. Grant was fast tracked because of friends from Illinois (primarily Elihu Washburne) advocating for him and Lincoln giving his home state more generals than any other. Grant was well aware of what caused his previous fall from grace and enforced alcohol use/abuse strictly in his command. In addition he made his Chief advisor John Rawlins take an oath to prevent him from Grant from drinking. Unlike many of his northern contemporaries Grant was successful in his first three conflicts, capturing a city before Rebels could reinforce it, then capturing 2 forts, one of which was fairly heavily defended. The success gained Grant national acclaim as the most successful Northern General from the very beginning of the war as well as a promotion to Major General. Those above him (Halleck and McClellan) were both overly cautious and ambitious, and as a result resented Grant for his success and even wanted him jailed for failure to send daily updates afterwards. It took Lincoln stepping in and telling them the red tape wasn’t the most important thing at this time.

Grant’s first major fight was the Battle of Shiloh, at the time the bloodiest of the Civil War with more deaths than the American Revolution, the War of 1812 and the Mexican American War combined. There is some evidence Grant’s army was surprised and unprepared when they were attacked by Rebels, which led to many casualties, but Grant’s resolution kept Union forces from surrendering territory. Grant was also unique in his willingness to pursue the Confederates instead of taking time to regroup, correctly understanding that defeating the opposing army would be the key to winning the war. Although the Battle was basically a draw, the Union claimed victory for keeping the territory. When Halleck was momentarily promoted to McClellan’s role of head of the army, Grant became the military general for most of the Western war front.

The single action that looks the worst historically in Grant’s career was his military order removing all Jewish merchants from the area. Spurred on by a few bad apples in the area and his dad’s work bringing in merchants attempting to scam the Union Army, Grant took his frustrations out on the entire Jewish population in his area. Although repealed within 30 days and included among his life’s greatest regrets, the action did have terrible outcomes for many individuals removed from their homes and ostracized by the military.

Grant’s campaign to capture Vicksburg is still recognized as one of the greatest military campaigns in American history and on its own should be sufficient to rebuke his inferiority as a General to Robert E. Lee. Chernow compared the two men, stating Lee would fight you on your front porch, while Grant would fight you in the kitchen and bedroom (meaning Lee was great head to head in a battle, but Grant had a better view for choking off resources and winning a war.) Unfortunately, it was followed up by possibly the worst display of public drunkenness in his career as he fell off a horse in New Orleans in between the Vicksburg and Chattanooga campaigns. Reports vary as to how drunk he was, but Grant’s superb horsemanship underlies the fact supports the allegation as he fell of broke his leg and was sidelining him for 2 months. Most of Grant’s alcohol episodes occurred in private, at non-critical times and out of sight of all but those closest to him during war.

Grant strongly supported the Emancipation Proclamation and was an early adopter of utilizing “Colored troops regiments.” He believed not only they could be useful with manual labor but could also serve and fight bravely in battle, something he bonded with Lincoln over following his success in Vicksburg. The Chattanooga campaign was nearly as impressive as Vicksburg, with Grant’s arrival when the existing troops were less than two weeks away from surrendering due to starvation. Grant fixed the supply infrastructure, and reversed positions securing the city and chasing out the Rebel threat. Following this campaign, Grant was made only the third Lieutenant General in U.S. History, following Washington and Winfield Scott. His delegation style leadership not surprisingly worked well with competent generals but not effective with poor generals. Grant gave great leeway to Sherman and Sheridan and was rewarded for it. Coordinating the attack on multiple fronts, Grant did what no other general before him could do and took the will out of the Rebels at great casualties to both sides

Grant’s handling of Lee’s surrender was in accordance with Lincoln’s wishes. Chernow praised how Grant allowed Eastern generals to get victories and Southerners to surrender gracefully in laying groundwork for easier reunification. Likewise, he helped clean up Sherman’s blunder in granting special terms to Johnston’s surrendering army, but still allowed Sherman to take credit for the surrender. Throughout the end of the war, Grant formed a friendship with Lincoln communicating with him in person and over telegraph frequently.

Grant’s initial trip to the south after the Civil War had him optimistic at southerners willingness to accept the new status quo. However, the actual situation (and Johnson’s handling of it) made it clear that was not the case and Grant needed to use Federal troops to enforce laws to protect free blacks. In addition, Grant passed orders such as “No law can be enforced against blacks which is not also being enforced against the rest of the population.” Under his direction, armies removed elected individuals from office who did not prosecute white criminals, and even threatened to shut down public transportation if it didn’t provide for blacks as well as whites. In doing so, he became the most powerful person in protecting Freedmen in the country. This was despite having a president who was doing everything he could to thwart Republican reconstruction, including removing Grant’s generals who were must successful at making a difference. Grant was tangentially involved in Johnson’s impeachment drama, as Johnson had attempted to name Grant Secretary of War in violation of the Tenure of Office Act. 5 out of 5.

Presidential Career – Grant stayed away from campaigning for the presidency, instead letting the position come to him. Grant won in a landslide electoral vote, though popular vote was much narrower. He definitely benefitted from the African American vote, which was substantial prior to the obstruction that would take place soon after. One of biggest powers of the President during that era was patronage. Grant was as bad as anybody with nepotism, giving jobs to just about anybody who had helped him out or was related to him. On the positive side, Grant gave hundreds of positions to blacks and Jewish people, including the first Ambassador positions to the former and Governorship to the latter. Grant came in with strong preference to assimilate Indians into Christian culture, and appointed various religious figures to assist with this. Although it would not be politically correct now, it was a more humane approach than many of his contemporaries who preferred relocation or genocide for the natives.

Grant also favored annexing the Dominican Republic if possible, however it was thwarted by opposition in Congress. Some of the only support for this plan came from individuals who would benefit monetarily in a direct manner. Along with the first Black Friday scandal (where gold was bought up artificially inflating the prices prior to the treasury then correcting the market) it appeared that individuals that surrounded Grant were unscrupulous and attempting to benefit from government decisions while Grant was ignorant of the conflicted parties until after the fact. While in office, the 15th Amendment was passed giving all men right to vote. His participation was the opposite of Andrew Johnson, in that he supported it and lobbied for its passage.

The size and power of Federal government grew considerably during Civil War and continue to do so under Grant. The Departments of Education and Agriculture were created during his first term. The Department of the Interior established the first ever National Park during Grant’s presidency. Most importantly, the Justice Department gave the Attorney General much more power, and Grant’s Attorney Generals filed thousands of indictments against Ku Klux Klan members while state governments did little or nothing. Mass murders of blacks and republicans in Louisiana and Mississippi during Grant’s reconstruction era have largely been forgotten by the general public but were unique emergencies that he had to deal with despite great opposition by Congress and Northerners fatigued with the “black problem” in the south. Grant stayed firm in his decision to keep federal armies present to enforce existing laws and arrest lawbreakers. Grant also signed into law the first Civil Rights Act, which although weak in enforcement provisions was the first of its kind. It was overturned by the Supreme Court several years later and another was not passed until the landmark act of the 1960’s.

America’s relationship with Britain was strained at the start of Grant’s presidency, as many Northerners held Britain accountable for the war lasting as long as it did based on aid given to the Confederates through ships and shipyards. Grant’s cabinet (in particular highly regarded Secretary of State Hamilton Fish) accomplished successful mediation with Britain via a five person committee that signaled the beginning of our long standing position as allies.

The Whiskey Ring scandal was the biggest scandal of Grant’s Presidency, even causing him to have to give a deposition while he was in office. It centered on Orville Babcock (a member of his cabinet) working with Whiskey producers to avoid paying taxes on their product in exchange for a cut of the profits. As with all of the scandals (and there were plenty of others, including one involving his brother Orvil and Indian trader posts), all evidence pointed to Grant being unaware of it and just trusting the wrong people in power.

Grant did have one final instance when Federal troops were needed in Mississippi to safeguard black and Republican voters and chose not to assis. Letters and from the time show he was willing to send them in but was convinced by his Attorney General and members of the Ohio government that the Mississippi Governor hadn’t done everything needed to require federal intervention, and that additional government interference in the south would alienate voters in the Ohio elections, costing power for the only party willing to support or protect Freedmen. It was another of Grant’s regrets late in his life.

Although Grant’s general policy with Native Americans was more peaceful than his predecessors, it was unfortunately marred by the Black Hills incidents and massacre of Custer’s troops at Little Big Horn. Ultimately it boiled down to either honoring treaties with Native Americans granting them the Black Hills, or using Federal troops to fight off prospectors which Grant believed his troops would not do.

The final controversy for Grant to deal with was the election of his successor. Three southern states had dueling factions claiming victory for both the Republican and Democrat candidates. The biggest fraud was certainly in the Democrat side who terrorized republicans from voting, but subsequent moves by both sides jeopardized the counting process. Grant appointed a bipartisan group (8 republicans, 7 Democrats) to decide on the winner of each state which ended up going 3-0 Republican and giving Rutherford B. Hayes the presidency. Despite the scandals, Grant stood firm on protecting the rights of blacks in the south, and even with a financial crash mixed in left the economy stronger on the global scale than it had been before through both an increased government size while still being backup up by the gold standard. 4.5 out of 5.

Vice President – Grant’s first Vice President was Schuyler Colfax from Indiana, also known as “Smiler” Colfax. Seemed to be well liked by everybody and had bright future ahead of him as of election. Colfax accepted stock in Credit Mobilier, which got lumped into another scandal of Grant’s presidency, declined a bid for reelection.

Henry Wilson of Massachusetts was a radical republican who operated a shoe factory and was the individual elected vice president for the second term. Neither man was again referenced in this biography and it was not uncommon at that time for Vice Presidents to not work with the sitting president outside of a campaigning capacity. 2 out of 5.

First Lady – With Julia Dent, Grant love at first sight. This was surprising to some, as Ms. Dent’s most prominent feature was a lazy/crossed eye. Dent came from a wealthy slaveholder family. Her father did not approve of Grant, and delayed their engagement for years. Grant’s only allegation of infidelity with Dent is an unsubstantiated/dubious claim that he fathered a baby with a Native American woman while out in California prior to the Civil War. During those early years of Grant’s marriage (particularly when he was sent to California) it appears Grant was very worried and jealous about his wife’s life away from him; he would frequently send her letters and she was much more sporadic in her responses, even in telling him she had given birth.

Grant was in a situation where although he opposed slavery, his wife supported it and her family even gave them their own slaves at times that they lived in Missouri. True to his word, when title to a slave was transferred to him for the first time, he went to the courthouse and gave the 35 year old man his freedom. This was even despite Grant being poor and obviously able to benefit financially from selling the man.

Mary Lincoln’s poor treatment toward Grant’s wife was a main factor for why Grants didn’t also go to Ford Theater with the president, where he was also an assassination target along with Lincoln.  Dent loved being First Lady, and took to hosting social events and even having ambassadors wives over in semi-official capacities.  Grant hid his decision not to run for a third term (basing it on all of the scandals towards the end of his 2nd term, as well as the appearance that he would not be a unanimous choice for the Republican Party for the first time) from his wife.  Julia took it as an affront to her, as she was accustomed to her role and still believed Grant was the only suitable choice for president.  Grant, knowing this would be the case, waited until he had mailed off his official statement that he would not seek a third term before telling her.  Perhaps her greatest attribute was that she always believed in the greatness of her husband, even when he was working as a clerk in Illinois and apparently no prospects for advancement.  3.5 out of 5.

Post Presidency – Once Grant was out of office, he took a trip around the world.  Starting in England and proceeding through France, Prussia and even becoming the first (former) president to visit Jerusalem.  Before coming home he moderated a dispute between Japan and China, becoming the first ex-president to take such a role in foreign affairs.  When Grant returned he campaigned openly for Garfield to win the following presidential election, once again something that was not done by prior presidents.

Unfortunately, Grant had another major scandal after leaving office.  Along with his sons, the group formed an investment firm called Grant & Ward based on the investing of Ferdinand Ward.  Ward seemed to be a miracle worker who would make massive returns on all investments.  The method to his success was what is now known as a Ponzi scheme.  Grant, always trusting, never reviewed any of the statements or looked into what was happening.  When the bubble burst, Grant and his kids were all broke and Ward ended up doing time in prison.

Desperate for money,  Grant accepted an offer to write a series of articles about various battles during the Civil War.  After some initial struggles with his style, Grant settled in and delivered very compelling work.  The publisher then requested an autobiography, which Grant began on.  He was later convinced by Mark Twain to have Twain publish the book, in return for a better financial return.  The book, which does not even go into his presidency, family or alcohol problems, was a massive success.  Selling over 300,000 copies (600,000 if you count each volume of it), it rivaled <i>Uncle Tom’s Cabin</i> for most successful book of the century.

Grant’s lifetime habit of smoking cigars led to throat cancer at the end of his life.  In the end, he gave up smoking, alcohol, and focused on finishing his book.  When he died he had slimmed down below 100 lbs, but had also been given back his pension as a general via an act passed by Congress.  He was buried in the impressive memorial now known as Grant’s tomb, along with his wife (who survived him by several years).  Although much of what he accomplished is common place now, for the era he was a trendsetter in his role as ex president.  4 out of 5.

Book Itself – Chernow is definitely the best biographer I’ve read so far, delivering a wonderful book on Washington and another now about Grant.  Perhaps he has benefited by selecting such interesting subjects, getting to write about compelling topics such as war and its aftermath.  Even in the quieter moments of Grant’s life however, Chernow creates a well rounded picture of a human being.  One impression I had of Grant in reading this book was that outside of the military he was a pushover.  Besides allowing himself to go by the wrong name for his entire career, he had a habit of not collecting debts from people who owed him money, and allowing those closest to him to take advantage of him with no consequences afterward.

Overall though, I came away really liking Grant and loving this book.  Grant was well liked by his troops and fellow officers that he served with, mainly due to his willingness to live under the same conditions and do the same work he asked of his soldiers, as well as his willingness to treat people with dignity regardless of who they were.  He seemed aware of his flaws and did what he could to prevent them from derailing him a 2nd time in his life.  Beyond the author connection, Grant seemed so much like Washington.  Both had anecdotes about their inherent strength as children, both were soldiers thrust into roles that seemed impossible and ended up victorious.  While Washington was the only founding father to free his slaves upon his death, Grant is the only politician I’ve read about to actual free his slaves prior to death or being legally obligated to.  America after the Civil War was nearly as blank a slate as America after the Revolutionary War.  While Washington set precedents we still follow today and held the office with incredible grace, we can directly compare how other presidents handled Reconstruction in Johnson and Hayes, and see how Grant’s methods were far more just, and necessary, than any of his peers.  Underrated as a General, and as a president, this was one of the best presidential biographies I’ve read.  5 out of 5.