In a new review over at the Claremont Institute, S. K. Tootle says some interesting things about Ulysses S. Grant: The Unlikely Hero by Michael Korda (right).
Please note that Korda is no less than the editor-in-chief of Simon & Schuster, which published Jean Smith's Grant, and which is struggling to get Doris Kearns Goodwin to deliver her Lincoln manuscript in time for an October book release. (An aside: Goodwin and Smith both have major plagiarism issues, of course, and that one little matter piques my interest in a close reading of Korda's stuff.)
The endnotes include only eighteen citations for ten chapters. Most of Korda's account is based on two books: Grant by William S. McFeely (1997) and W.E. Woodward Meet General Grant (1928). He relies on "the Ulysses S. Grant homepage" for most of his information on the Grant presidency, except for the account of "the Santo Domingo fiasco," which comes from McFeeley. He makes no mention of prominent recent scholars of the Grant Administration such as Brooks Simpson, Jean Edward Smith, or Frank Scatturo, and there is no evidence in his book that Korda consulted their work.[Emphasis added.]
This is the kind of depth we would expect from a student report on Grant. The editor responsible for Smith did not even consult Smith's book. And once again a would-be "master storyteller" is going to try to use literary skill (such as can be mustered) to write his way through historical problems to arrive at historical truth.
More from Tootle:
[H]e does not even begin to address several important issues during Grant's presidency, and some of the errors in his biography are laughable. [...] Korda is also a master of distracting or pretentious analogies and foreign references. [...] In two remarkable sentences, Korda describes Grant using the words of Homer, Shakespeare, and Twain. [...] [I]t should be possible to write a book about Grant without mentioning The Horse Whisperer, Tennessee Williams, marriage customs in the British army, F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, or Kevin Costner in "Dances with Wolves."Perhaps this book was inspired by an exciting series of cocktail parties.
Bad Grant books are going to turn (other) publishers (and their sales forces) against issuing the occassionally good or interesting Grant study. If such a large part of the war - Grant's part - is commercially blacklisted, the whole field of Civil War studies is going to suffer.