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Robert E. Lee: A Biography Paperback – 17 Sep 1997


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Product details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; New Ed edition (17 Sept. 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393316319
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393316315
  • Product Dimensions: 15.7 x 2.3 x 23.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 842,199 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"A gripping, flesh-and-blood portrait." -- Barrett R. Richardson "Splendid... The most even-tempered and sophisticated portrait that we are likely to see for another thirty years." -- T. Michael Parrish

About the Author

Emory M. Thomas is Regent's Professor of History at the University of Georgia and author of a number of books on the Civil War. He lives in Athens, Georgia.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
ROBERT EDWARD LEE was the less-than-longed-for fifth child of a mother in uncertain health and reduced financial straits struggling essentially alone to maintain the facade of family in a home that was never hers. Read the first page
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3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By john.winterton@defra.gsi.gov.uk on 30 Jan. 2002
Format: Paperback
In many ways this is a well-written life of Lee, which avoids the worst excesses of both idolatry and revisionism. Greater emphasis is accorded to the pre-Civil War years: the treatment of the War's military side, and of Lee's generalship, is at times perfunctory. The author offers some shrewd insights into Lee's character but at times creates distortions of his own, eg by suggesting that "in a very real sense" Lee sided with Virginia to avoid conflict with his wife and family! There is also an element of distortion through "presentism", ie judging Lee's character, motives and actions by late 20th century liberal standards rather than in the context of his own time, circumstances and background. Although at the end of the book Thomas accepts that Lee was a Hero "with a capital H", the rather anti-heroic feel of his biography sometimes appears at variance with this assessment. The definitive study of Lee remains Freeman's great four-volume work, which, while clearly admiring, is by no means uncritical. Apart from other factors, considerations of space mean that Thomas cannot compete with Freeman's level of detail. With these caveats Thomas' own account deserves to be read as a worthwhile introductory study of a very great man and General.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 27 Nov. 1998
Format: Hardcover
Because I spent three summers at Arlington House as a National Park Service ranger, I've read a number of books about Robert E. Lee and his family, including Freeman's four volumes twice. Thomas's biography is well written and was especially helpful to me in sorting out aspects of Lee's pre-Civil War career that hadn't made sense to me before. Thomas' treatment of Lee's feckless father, Light Horse Harry, hits close to the mark, and I'm ready to accept Mrs. Lee as more small-minded than I would have credited ten years ago. Thomas is perhaps a bit tough on Lee's father-in-law, G.W.P. Custis, and I would have liked the author to spend more time with Lee's mother-in-law, Mary Fitzhugh Custis, whose influence on Lee and his family was enormous.
Thomas' attempt to read double-entendres into Lee's early pleasantries with younger women is at best strained and at worse anachronistic. Thomas also has an imperfect understanding of evangelical religion in the nineteenth century and seems to think if the low-church Episcopalian Lee didn't discuss a conversion experience, then his confirmation in the church at age 46 was little more than a formality "to support his daughters' conviction" and "to honor his mother-in-law's piety." Thomas' attempt to substitute "God" for "true gentleman" in one of Lee's ruminations about ethics and read into it an "intriguing theological insight" is downright silly. (p. 397)
One serious mistake needs to be corrected: the sensational charge that in June 1862, Lee was so preoccupied with his duties that he forgot his grandson had died and wrote to the boy's mother asking her to "kiss [him] for me." Thomas might have reflected on the improbability of this story and double-checked the primary sources. Actually, the boy died in July.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 19 Jan. 1998
Format: Paperback
Professor Thomas' narrative provides a revealing insight into the life of this legendary commander. He is presented as human; cutting through the mythological jargon that prompts superhuman epics to be spread via word-of-mouth or text. Thomas' Robert E. Lee is believable, both as family man and commander of Confederate troops. The reader can now understand Lee's motivation, his love of Virginia, and his ability to lead men, seriously outnumbered, into battle. This is a must-read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 26 Nov. 1997
Format: Hardcover
Thomas has given us a post-revisionist portrait of Lee that addresses the general as a human being much better than it presents him as a brilliant military strategist. His complicated relationship with his rakish father, his sainted mother, his demanding wife, and his children are all central foci of the book; his relationships with those outside his family get relatively short shrift. It is amazing how little of this book deals with the actual history of Lee's Civil War battles; more attention seems to be given to his involvement in the Mexican War. Indeed, the book seems to give disproportionate attention to his life prior to the Civil War, with relatively lesser attention to what happened after he became commanding general of the Army of Northern Virginia. Since the latter period is that in which he made his mark on history, this focus is rather disappointing. But Thomas does a relatively able job of dispelling the image of Lee as "the marble man," and for that, Civil War afficionados owe him a debt of gratitude.
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