If there’s an afterlife, I see Ron Chernow meeting Ulysses Grant and saying to him, “Hello there, General. I made you come alive for a whole new generation of Americans,” and Grant will smile and reply, “I know. Thank you!”

In Chernow’s highly entertaining, highly readable biography, Grant becomes a flesh and blood, 3-dimensional, complex force of nature. In fact, he presents the whole, colorful mid-19th Century America in vivid hues, especially Grant’s numerous Civil War battles. And the people who were part of Grant’s life, some decent and attractive, some scurrilous and repellant, are sharply drawn. Chernow does away with rumor, gossip, mystery, and myth to give us Grant the boy, the youth, the young lieutenant, the general, the president, the seer, and finally the greatest American memoir writer of the 19th Century.

And as for the book’s length, forget about it: those 900+ pages go by too quickly. You’ll close the book with a slight feeling of closing the book on a friend and wishing the experience had lasted longer.