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Robert E. Lee: A Biography Hardcover – July 1, 1995
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From Publishers Weekly
Thomas, a distinguished historian of the Civil War (The Confederacy as a Revolutionary Experience), has written a major analytical biography of Robert E. Lee. Synthesizing printed and manuscript sources, he presents Lee as neither the icon of Douglas Southall Freeman nor the flawed figure presented by Thomas Connolly. Lee emerges instead as a man of paradoxes, whose frustrations and tribulations were the basis for his heroism. Lee's work was his play, according to the author, and throughout his life he made the best of his lot. Believing that evil springs from selfishness, he found release in service to his family, his country and, not least, to the men he led. One of history's great captains and most beloved generals, he refused to take himself too seriously. This comic vision of life ultimately shaped an individual who was both more and less than his legend. Highly recommended. Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Gen. Robert Edward Lee was a leader who inspired great devotion among the men who followed him, and he continues to inspire great interest to this day. Thomas (The Confederate Nation, 1861-1865, 1979) presents a fresh look at the general. By examining Lee as a person, the biographer renders him intensely human. Lee is shown to be the son of an unstable father, a frustrated husband, and a devoted parent. He encountered many hardships but became great not "because of what he did ...but because of the way he lived." Given the prodigious number of Lee biographies available, this may be an optional purchase, but it is nonetheless a valuable addition to the studies of the general.?Robert A. Curtis, Taylor Memorial P.L., Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
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A Southerner by birth, with almost all of my family having been in the Confederate Army, and as a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute, General Robert E. Lee was as close to deified during my formative years as a mortal could be. General "Stonewall" Jackson was always mentioned in the same breath. So it was with some trepidation that I undertook to read a "balanced" view of Robert E. Lee, the man, that word most often being used today as camouflage for "revisionism". I found the actual man even more intriguing than the myth, though some of my childhood romantic impressions were dispelled. The author strives for truth, first and foremost.
Thomas does not disappoint the admirer nor can he fail to impress the detractor with his honesty. The author's objective in this work is to reconcile Lee's many contradictions: "Unionist" who was the Confederacy's most prominent general, "Plantation Owner" who disliked slavery...these are only a few. Admirer or detractor, this book will challenge many preconceptions. R. E. Lee is portrayed as a "whole" man, of notable flaws, but one who's virtues, which included a double portion of humility, triumph in the end, though Lee likely never thought so. A shy man who avoided conflict, he doggedly led an army that should never have survived unbelievable privation and disadvantages for four years, but for his efforts. He did so with a Jomini-like, aggressive pursuit of decisive battle despite his reticence in almost every other area of his life. In a career spent with the toughest of soldiers and in shaping the lives of young men, his favorite company was that of young women with whom he corresponded throughout his life with his wife's encouragement, no less. A picky, particular man in private, the bane of many of his staff officers, and one who fretted over the faults of people, Lee almost always exhibited grace, combining it with justice, when it came time to mete out punishment. He is similar to a Washington in this characteristic but seems to have been much more approachable and warm as a person.
Probably the most significant issue the author addresses is Lee's views on, and practice of slavery. This is something I will leave for readers to discover, and to judge for themselves. Thomas tells all and thankfully is no revisionist. He sets the context for Lee and his contemporaries by explaining the common thoughts and prejudices of most Americans of the 1860s. No matter what the era, I personally need a review of the times to set my mind into context for understanding that of the subject. The author "first seeks understanding" but also is not afraid to bring critique where it is obviously due. In the end, Lee's actions, often contradicting his spoken words, once again seem to lead people in at least beginning to tackle a most important challenge with which we still struggle: how to live together in peace.
Lastly, the student of military history will not be disappointed. Thomas gives insight into many of the reasons Lee made particular decisions during the most important battles and campaigns. Defining the "why" behind the "what" may be Emory Thomas' most significant contribution to the subject of General Robert E. Lee.
I do highly recommend this book, not only because it has excellent scholarship, but also because it's a pleasure to read--a most difficult combination!