Michael Korda on H. W. Brands

Over the last fifteen years we’ve seen a series of Grant biographies (with two more single-volume treatments on the way, as well as the long-awaited second [and final] volume of my own work). One of the less successful efforts was Michael Korda’s Ulysses S. Grant: The Unlikely Hero (2004), which proved less compelling than Josiah Bunting’s concise biography. Now Korda turns his talents to reviewing H. W. Brands’s new Grant biography in a review that suggests just why Korda may have fallen short in capturing Grant. I didn’t know Grant was on the $20 bill; and I’m sure some people will be taken aback to read that  “it is typical of Grant’s decline in history that the Ulysses S. Grant Association has migrated from Ohio, where he was born, to the University of Southern Illinois and finally to Mississippi State University (of all places), where his papers now reside, deep in what used to be the Confederacy.”  He can’t even get the name of Southern Illinois University correct.

And that’s just the opening paragraph.

Eventually Korda gets around to saying next to nothing about Brands’s book, which is just as well.

(h/t to a loyal reader)

12 thoughts on “Michael Korda on H. W. Brands

  1. R. B. Bernstein October 6, 2012 / 1:34 pm

    Korda blows it badly also by overlooking the fine 2001 Grant biography by Jean Edward Smith.

  2. Scott Smart October 6, 2012 / 1:55 pm

    I’ve been spending some time lately looking at banking and finance in the period of national banking and hope Vol 2 might have some insights into Grant’s thinking and role in this.

  3. Al Mackey October 6, 2012 / 3:01 pm

    Each volume of the Grant papers is almost the weight of a Civil War cannonball? I guess there were some smaller rounds. At least he didn’t reference Peret. ; )

    • John Foskett October 7, 2012 / 1:10 pm

      He might have the wrong war. It sounds as though he’s referring to those 3 lbr. “grasshoppers” and “butterflies” used in the AWI.

  4. rcocean October 6, 2012 / 3:25 pm

    Korda is (was) the editor-in-Chief of Simon & Schuster, which means he can publish basically thing he wants to, and review anything he wants to. Connections mean a lot in the NYC book publishing world.

  5. Mark October 6, 2012 / 7:37 pm

    I think the naivety about financial matters isn’t accurate. A lot of wise people lost money during this time, even those who were decidedly financially savvy.

  6. Tom green October 6, 2012 / 7:39 pm

    I think lee was a trader to the south. He was on the union army to begin with and nobody has ever given me a decent reason why at the end he sends three charges up the hill which was tanamount to suicide. My hero was Longstreet who wouldn’t even give the command for the final charges which lee ordered him to. Lee was probably sending inside info to that damn Lincoln if the truth was known.

  7. Noma October 6, 2012 / 9:56 pm

    This reader sums up Korda’s accuracy nicely: “Grant on the $20 in an article bitching that he gets no respect? Was that irony intentional????”

  8. Michael Bartley October 6, 2012 / 11:18 pm

    Professor Simpson, I have been reading Crossroads since day one. I rarely comment here as I simply do not have the knowledge on this subject to contribute something positive and meaningful unlike many of your obviously learned readers who contribute greatly to your blog. However, today, I jump in for one simple reason. Here is what caught my eye, “with two more single-volume treatments on the way, as well as the long-awaited second [and final] volume of my own work).” Now, I irritated you once, back in the early days, by pushing for the second volume. So, I won’t do that again. I will say that as a reader with only the time and inclination to read one work on Grant, I have little interest in Brands or any of the other widely varied works on Grant. I chose you to be the historian I would trust to enlighten me on this extraordinary American and I am glad I did. I look forward to your second and final volume on Grant and thank you, in advance, for your exceptional contributions to American history as well as your ability through this blog to shine a light on some of the more sinister and, often, concurrently hilarious elements of today’s online goofballs. Speaking of and because we already seem to have enough generals commanding the net, I think I am going to start calling myself Major Mike or maybe Sargent Major Michael or… ah, hell I want to be a general too. Geez, for I guy who rarely comments…

  9. John Foskett October 7, 2012 / 9:03 am

    Again speaking as a consumer, I’ll buy yours when it comes out. The rest of these I’ll leave to others. I’m still baffled by Brands’ statement that he switched from Lincoln to Grant because books on the former were “pouring off the presses”. Fool me once….. Next up- let’s have Brands do a review of Chernow’s book when it comes out. IIRC, the hype when Chernow’s was announced was that it will be a “comprehensive” biography. As they say in Maine, “ayuh….” .

  10. William Underhill October 7, 2012 / 7:29 pm

    I gave Ron Chernow a tour of Grant Cottage this past May and he told me that he has just begun his research and the book would probably not be out until 2016 or 2017. I suspect that Brooks Simpson’s second volume will be out before that.

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