Grant by Ron Chernow review – booze, slavery and an argument for greatness

The author of the now celebrated Hamilton biography attempts to make a hero of the victorious civil war commander and flawed president

In 1885, Ulysses S Grant died a hero. Revered in the north for his victories against the Confederacy in the American civil war, he was respected in the south for his generosity towards disbanded rebels, whom he permitted to return home in peace after their commanders’ surrender. Following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, Grant became the face of the Republican party, and was twice elected president, serving from 1869 to 1877. His administration was mired in financial scandal, but out of office Grant restored his reputation, travelling the world as an unofficial ambassador. At the end of his life, bankrupt after a bad investment and dying in agony of throat cancer, he recaptured people’s imagination, finishing the manuscript of his memoirs just before his death.

Since then, ...

Sugar by James Walvin review – from slavery to obesity

A history of the commodity dwells on body horror and morality, but fails to grasp how capitalism and racism reinforce one anotherIn 1792, a popular pamphlet urged Britons to boycott sugar and rum manufactured by enslaved labourers in Britain’s Caribbean colonies. A boycott, the pamphlet insisted, would hamstring the “West India interest” in parliament, and hasten the abolition of the slave trade. West Indian sugar was protected by high tariffs; by buying it, Britons subsidised slavery. Protected prices had made slave owners brutal and imprudent. Rather than improving conditions for the people they claimed to own, sugar planters could rely on the slave trade to replace anyone they worked to death. The circuit of slavery, money and power needed to be broken. “The wealth derived from this horrid traffic,” the pamphlet concluded, “has created an influence that secures its continuance.” Many of its readers recognised that eating sugar ...