In Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee, Michael Korda, the New York Times best-selling biographer of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ulysses S. Grant, and T. E. Lawrence, has written the first major biography of Lee in nearly 20 years, bringing to life America's greatest and most iconic hero. Korda paints a vivid and admiring portrait of Lee as a general and a devoted family man who, though he disliked slavery and was not in favor of secession, turned down command of the Union army in 1861 because he could not "draw his sword" against his own children, his neighbors, and his beloved Virginia. He was surely America's preeminent military leader, as calm, dignified, and commanding a presence in defeat as he was in victory. Lee's reputation has only grown in the 150 years since the Civil War, and Korda covers in groundbreaking detail all of Lee's battles and traces the making of a great man's undeniable reputation on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line, positioning him finally as the symbolic martyr-hero of the Southern Cause.
We've sent an email with your order details. Order ID #:
To access this title, visit your library in the app or on the desktop website.
Should be listed under leadership
- Bill Yeadon
Good But Not Great
Expectations are high for a book of this scope. Unfortunately, it's just not there. While the presentation is professionally done, the problem is with the book.
It would benefit by being about a third shorter. The same incidents and quotations are recounted multiple times throughout, making the whole work feel episodic and unpolished. The author seems not to have been able to assemble his research into a comprehensive narrative, and the editor evidently helped very little.
The work begins by recounting Lee's early life and family history. The source material here appears to have been modest, which leads to emphasizing comparatively minor points and assumptions out of proportion. As an example, we are introduced to the idea that Lee enjoyed the company of pretty girls and reminded of this conclusion repeatedly.
Perhaps the preponderance of males in the 19th century did not enjoy their company, which makes this bit of trivia worth emphasizing until it becomes tiresome?
With the beginning of the Civil War the writer falls into the trap sprung by so many historians and starts writing a history of the war, rather than a biography. The major battles in which Lee participated are recounted at length. This part of the material suffers from selectively reading and quoting from other history writers, including U.S. Grant, to reinforce the book's conclusions.
As the war ends, the narrative refocuses to Lee's life and actions in particular, but superficiality increases. Despite mild protestations to the contrary, the author cannot resist enforcing 21st century views of slavery and race relations on some of Lee's actions and statements. He neglects to notice that Lee's remarks are subject to multiple, equally valid interpretations and, while he informs us that Lee was "a man of his time," he does not put him in that context nor explain what it means.
The last years of Lee's life are passed over in the space of a very modest number of pages, despite the abundance of available source material (a fact that the book acknowledges). The reader thus learns next to nothing about Lee's motivations and actions during these years. It's a challenge for any author to spend so much time on Civil War battles and then shift to the life of a former general and college administrator without dropping the pace.
Overall, the book is entertaining and literate, but annoying unfinished. A serious reader will be left wanting more biographical substance and focus.
- David Wardell