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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.
16 of 16 people found this review helpful
Most of us know Lee as the prototype Southern Gentleman. I did not know the personal tragedies he suffered during the war.
After reading the book I now know why his troops worshipped him. Today's CEOs could learn much from his leadership style.
I have read many Civil War books but I thought this was the most balanced depiction of Lee.
11 of 11 people found this review helpful
A masterful and sympathetic summary of Lee's life. in which were combined military greatness and genuine Christian piety. Possibly no other military leader in history has received the acclaim by the side that defeated him as Lee did, and this in a civil war, the most brutal of all wars. The reading is excellent preventing the extended descriptions of the military campaigns from becoming tedious.
one of my favourites. brilliantly researched and written. Highly recommended!
well balanced in approach, and showing many sides to Robert E. Lee.
I was reasonably familiar with his Civil War exploits, but I didn't know anything about his youth, early career, or his fantastic achievements in the Mexican War, which were well covered
I will listen to this again!