Sunday, September 13, 2009

Book Review: "Reading the Man"

Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters by Elizabeth Brown Pryor; Peguin (non-classic); 688 pages; paperback.

I bought this book a couple of years ago when it first came out in its original hardback edition. Boy, was I ever disappointed. The promotions said the author was given special access by Lee's descendants. I love to read just about everything that comes out about Lee so I thought this would be a great scholarly update with loads of new information. Was I ever wrong.

What I found was a book that twisted nearly every fact into an attack on both Robert E. Lee and his entire family.The attacks began on Lee's father, "Light Horse Harry" Lee, hero of the American Revolution, and continued on to just about every member of his family.

The author obviously was judging Lee by early 21st Century, politically correct standards that are blatantly unfair and unjust. People of the past lived in times very different from ours. It is just not right to judge them by standards that were not even existent, or not well known, at that time.

Also the author seems to psycho-analyse Lee repeatedly. No one can get into the thoughts an motivations of another person they've never met or talked to, and certainly not one that lived 150-years-ago. I've noticed a lot of modern, politically correct, biographers and historians are using that approach and I don't like it one bit.

To top it off, the book is boring, tedious and just drones on and on. I slogged my way through it because I wanted to be able to speak and write intelligently about it. It was tough going, but I made it.

I would recommend to readers to get one of the many, many really good, thorough and fair biographies of Lee. Among those still in print are Douglas Southall Freeman's Pulitzer Prize winning biography, "R.E. Lee," either in the condensed version or the multi-volume original, which can still be found; Emory Thomas' fine "Robert E. Lee: A Biography" and Burke Davis' "Gray Fox: Robert E. Lee and the Civil War." There is also a new short biography out by Noah Trudeau, "Robert E. Lee," but I haven't read it yet and will do a review as soon as I do.

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