Looking Lee book recommendations


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shermans_march

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#23
I have been commissioned to write a "long" (25000 characters) article on Robert E Lee for a magazine. I'm not an expert on Lee, and need to do some reading. For depth I will read Kordas book Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee. Korda and I seems to be roughly on the same page in our assessment of Lees character and generalship, so his book will do fine.

However, it is big beast of a book and in addition I would like to read something shorter and more to the point. Is there a good biography on Lee that is 250 pages long or less? "Good" to me equals based on original sources (not others writing) and balanced (making niether a saint nor a buffoon out of the man). It's fine if the book covers just the Civil War period of his life.

I could also use a good book on Lees generalship. I presume there are dozens of them out there, so which one if I'm only to read one?
Please don't read Michael Korda's book on Lee. I bought it when it was first released and regret it.
 

WJC

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#24
I have been commissioned to write a "long" (25000 characters) article on Robert E Lee for a magazine. I'm not an expert on Lee, and need to do some reading. For depth I will read Kordas book Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee. Korda and I seems to be roughly on the same page in our assessment of Lees character and generalship, so his book will do fine.
However, it is big beast of a book and in addition I would like to read something shorter and more to the point. Is there a good biography on Lee that is 250 pages long or less? "Good" to me equals based on original sources (not others writing) and balanced (making niether a saint nor a buffoon out of the man). It's fine if the book covers just the Civil War period of his life.
I could also use a good book on Lees generalship. I presume there are dozens of them out there, so which one if I'm only to read one?
If you are going to write an accurate, meaningful piece, why not do the research necessary to do it right? Use primary sources and original documents.
If you are satisfied with using secondary sources, the best- but by no means the shortest- is Douglas S. Freeman, R. E. Lee, a Biography. (New York: Charles Scribner & Sons,. 1934).
Another, by one who knew Lee well, is Walter Taylor, Four Years with General Lee. (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1878).
It is less than 200 pages in length.
Good luck!
 
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#25
I have a question about older Lee biographies.I know the one by Emory Thomas is more current,but how is the older one on Lee by Clifford Dowdey(1965)?Is it one of the better ones on him and how good of a biography is it?
 

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Brev. Brig. Gen'l
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#28
Thanks.I had heard it was one of the best on Lee but wasn't sure.
If you want to believe Lee was perfect, then it was one of the best.

But if you want to understand Lee as a man with good points and with faults, then there is one best book, and that's Elizabeth Brown Pryor's Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters.

Douglas Southall Freeman's 4-volume R. E. Lee is beautiful, but it does tend to ignore or downplay Lee's faults. However, it's a terrific resource and very rich in detail.

Emory Thomas' Robert E. Lee: A Biography is good, though not as good as the above two.

I would stay away from Bevin Alexander's Robert E. Lee's Civil War and Edward Bonekemper's How Robert E. Lee Lost the Civil War. I don't believe either of those two understand military strategy and tactics.

Peter Carmichael's Audacity Personified is a collection of essays by top historians about Lee's generalship and is very good.

Gary Gallagher's Lee the Soldier is an anthology of writings about Lee and is another that is necessary to understand Lee, this time understanding him as a general.

Gallagher has two other books that are really good as well: Lee and His Generals in War and Memory and Lee and His Army in Confederate History, which are collections of essays Gallagher wrote in various places.
 
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#31
Interesting, given that it is pretty old - but not dated?

What is it that makes it so good?
Freeman used sources that no one had used before, and given when he wrote the book, he was able to talk to people who knew Lee and who had good source documents no one else had access to. It's the quality and depth of his research that stands out, in my opinion.
 
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#32
if you want to understand Lee as a man with good points and with faults, then there is one best book, and that's Elizabeth Brown Pryor's Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters.
I have not read this book, but I have read the reviews. Here are some excerpts from one that I found to be most enlightening. It says, in part:

"... throughout the biography it is clear that Pryor's call to objectiveness is completely undermined by her overall goal to defame Lee. What effort she makes at being impartial is quickly dropped after a few pages in every chapter, almost with complete consistency. Each chapter is involved in a formulaic approach to vilify Lee.

"The chapters begin with a selection of one or more letters written either by Lee, or about him and his situation. The context of the letters is then discussed, with emphasis on their relationship to the current political situation in the country at the time, or to Lee’s personal environment at the time. Pryor would then use her research to discuss some facts about Lee’s situation, and then immediately dive in to the defamation of his character. By the end of each chapter, Pryor has either abandoned her research for a rampage of vilification or is on damage control, trying to salvage what is left from the object of the chapter after her tirade of libel."

"... the final product reads to my subjective mind as if Pryor has some sort of distaste of Lee’s reverence, and has made it her goal to prove that he is not worthy of the praise.

"Subjectively, as an old-cultured South Carolinian, I read this book expecting a plethora of facts about Lee’s life supported by Lee’s own personal words, from which I hoped to gain insight into his actual mindset and character. But I soon realized that what I was reading was a work of character assassination. Time and time again, Pryor detailed Lee through subjective lenses that distort facts, consistently comparing Lee’s political views to our modern era’s, and setting him up to fail. This originally made me put down the book for a while, but after I started it back up, I was delighted to find that despite Pryor’s endless attempts to defame and vilify Lee and his character, she fails."

The full review can be found here:
https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-...f=cm_cr_arp_d_rvw_ttl?ie=UTF8&ASIN=0143113909
 

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Brev. Brig. Gen'l
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#33
I have not read this book, but I have read the reviews. Here are some excerpts from one that I found to be most enlightening. It says, in part:

"... throughout the biography it is clear that Pryor's call to objectiveness is completely undermined by her overall goal to defame Lee. What effort she makes at being impartial is quickly dropped after a few pages in every chapter, almost with complete consistency. Each chapter is involved in a formulaic approach to vilify Lee.

"The chapters begin with a selection of one or more letters written either by Lee, or about him and his situation. The context of the letters is then discussed, with emphasis on their relationship to the current political situation in the country at the time, or to Lee’s personal environment at the time. Pryor would then use her research to discuss some facts about Lee’s situation, and then immediately dive in to the defamation of his character. By the end of each chapter, Pryor has either abandoned her research for a rampage of vilification or is on damage control, trying to salvage what is left from the object of the chapter after her tirade of libel."

"... the final product reads to my subjective mind as if Pryor has some sort of distaste of Lee’s reverence, and has made it her goal to prove that he is not worthy of the praise.

"Subjectively, as an old-cultured South Carolinian, I read this book expecting a plethora of facts about Lee’s life supported by Lee’s own personal words, from which I hoped to gain insight into his actual mindset and character. But I soon realized that what I was reading was a work of character assassination. Time and time again, Pryor detailed Lee through subjective lenses that distort facts, consistently comparing Lee’s political views to our modern era’s, and setting him up to fail. This originally made me put down the book for a while, but after I started it back up, I was delighted to find that despite Pryor’s endless attempts to defame and vilify Lee and his character, she fails."

The full review can be found here:
https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-...f=cm_cr_arp_d_rvw_ttl?ie=UTF8&ASIN=0143113909
Generally speaking, Amazon reviews, with some exceptions, are worthless. Many are written by people who have an axe to grind, especially with a book that brings out Lee's shortcomings as well as his strengths.

Added: Ms. Pryor, in addition to being able to see the new trove of Lee letters and family papers, worked at Arlington and has read all the Lee letters there and at the Virginia Historical Society. No one short of Lee himself and possibly his wife has had a more in-depth exposure to Robert E. Lee' s inner thoughts as he expressed them on paper to various people of the time.
 

Bruce Vail

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#34
I have a question about older Lee biographies.I know the one by Emory Thomas is more current,but how is the older one on Lee by Clifford Dowdey(1965)?Is it one of the better ones on him and how good of a biography is it?
Dowdey can be an engaging writer, but is definitely associated with Lee Worship and Lost Causism. For your purposes, best to take a pass on Dowdey.
 
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#35
Generally speaking, Amazon reviews, with some exceptions, are worthless. Many are written by people who have an axe to grind, especially with a book that brings out Lee's shortcomings as well as his strengths.
Generally speaking, you may be right, but the reviewer I quoted gave the book a 3-star rating, and also gave the book a bit of praise. Hardly reads like something written by someone with an axe to grind.

Added: Ms. Pryor, in addition to being able to see the new trove of Lee letters and family papers, worked at Arlington and has read all the Lee letters there and at the Virginia Historical Society. No one short of Lee himself and possibly his wife has had a more in-depth exposure to Robert E. Lee' s inner thoughts as he expressed them on paper to various people of the time.
Again, I haven't read the book... maybe I'll try to find a free PDF online or buy it from a yard sale if I run across it... but when I read you praising it and a rational reviewer calling it "a work of character assassination," I come away expecting it won't be worth much more than whatever new, previously unpublished letters of Lee & his family are contained therein. Too bad Freeman didn't have all of that additional exposure.
 
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#36
Generally speaking, Amazon reviews, with some exceptions, are worthless. Many are written by people who have an axe to grind, especially with a book that brings out Lee's shortcomings as well as his strengths.

Added: Ms. Pryor, in addition to being able to see the new trove of Lee letters and family papers, worked at Arlington and has read all the Lee letters there and at the Virginia Historical Society. No one short of Lee himself and possibly his wife has had a more in-depth exposure to Robert E. Lee' s inner thoughts as he expressed them on paper to various people of the time.
But those reviews are very revealing that the book probably described a conflicted personality, whose actions in the secession crisis conflicted with high ideals of loyalty and public service.
 

Bruce Vail

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#37
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Brev. Brig. Gen'l
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#38
Generally speaking, you may be right, but the reviewer I quoted gave the book a 3-star rating, and also gave the book a bit of praise. Hardly reads like something written by someone with an axe to grind.

Again, I haven't read the book... maybe I'll try to find a free PDF online or buy it from a yard sale if I run across it... but when I read you praising it and a rational reviewer calling it "a work of character assassination," I come away expecting it won't be worth much more than whatever new, previously unpublished letters of Lee & his family are contained therein. Too bad Freeman didn't have all of that additional exposure.
He has an axe to grind in seeing Lee's shortcomings being brought out in addition to his strengths.

Take a look at another 3-star review:

"Typical white washing of Lee's behavior toward Blacks and disregard of the oath he took to protect and defend the nation he later tried to defeat."

That's someone with an axe to grind in the other direction.

Like I said, Amazon reviews are typically worthless. They're usually one of the worst ways to make up one's mind whether or not to purchase the book.
 

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Brev. Brig. Gen'l
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#39
But those reviews are very revealing that the book probably described a conflicted personality, whose actions in the secession crisis conflicted with high ideals of loyalty and public service.
No, they aren't revealing at all, except for the prejudices of the reviewers.
 



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