Jean Edward Smith, biographer who reassessed presidential reputations, dies at 86

September 14, 2019 at 8:55 p.m. EDT

Jean Edward Smith. (Christine Smith)

Jean Edward Smith, a scholar who was one of the most admired biographers of his time, the author of smoothly written accounts of several presidents, including Ulysses S. Grant, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower, that became prizewinning bestsellers, died Sept. 1 at his home in Huntington, W.Va. He was 86.

He had complications from Parkinson’s disease, said his wife, Christine Smith.

Dr. Smith, a Washington-born political scientist who spent seven years as an Army officer, was a faculty member at the University of Toronto for many years and later taught at Marshall University in West Virginia. His first books were on German politics, but beginning in the 1990s, he became a prolific chronicler of the lives of major figures in U.S. history, and was praised by historians and everyday readers alike.

In 2012, Columbia University historian Henry F. Graff called Dr. Smith “indubitably America’s most distinguished biographer.”

His 2001 study of Grant, the Civil War general who later served two terms as president, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and helped raise scholars’ estimation of Grant’s effectiveness as president.

Grant was a failure in business — “He was too…

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