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The Man Who Saved the Union

H.W. Brand's biography of America's sometimes overlooked 18th president is a good read for history buffs or anyone who enjoys a life story well-told.

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The Man Who Saved the Union
By H.W. Brands
Knopf Doubleday
736 pp.

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Groucho Marx loved to ask a trick question: Who's buried in Grant's Tomb? If you're ever in the Big Apple, you can drop by Riverside Park to see the answer for yourself. Just don't expect to have much company.

The lonely mausoleum on the Upper West Side is quiet in more ways than one. Other than the words "Let Us Have Peace" above its entrance, there are no engravings of famous quotes from Ulysses S. Grant and few hints as to why he became the most beloved American of his time.

If Grant sticks in our memories at all, it's for helping to win the Civil War, for drinking too much, and for being one of a long line of obscure 19th-century presidents.

Every few years, a new biography comes along and tries to convince readers that Grant's worth remembering. The latest one – The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses Grant in War and Peace – is a treat for history buffs and anyone else who enjoys a life story well-told.

Through a quick-paced 736 pages, we meet a man who didn't flinch at paying the cost of war or the cost of peace, whose journey from mid-life disgrace is a testament to the power of risk-taking and dogged persistence.

But this isn't a modern-style biography that psychoanalyzes its subject and tries to imagine what he or she was thinking. Well-respected historian H.W. Brand is straightforward and avoids speculation.

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