Wednesday, September 30, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Robert E. Lee: Lessons in Leadership

I found Robert E. Lee: Lessons in Leadership by Noah Andre Trudeau (Palgrave Macmillan, New York, N.Y. 2009) to be an excellent survey of the life of that great Southern-American general. This book is a concise summary of the life and military career of Lee, and avoids getting bogged down or lost in a lot of distracting details.

I also like Noah Andre Trudeau's writing style and his completely fair historical analysis. There are all too many modern historians and biographers who come at a subject with a theory they want to prove. They then cherry-pick from details that seem to support their case and end up with a distorted and unfair work. That is not the case here. Trudeau is my ideal of how a professional historian should write about a subject. He is fair, thorough, interesting, and has no modern-day axe-to-grind. The author seems to understand how important it is to evaluate the subject within the context of his own time.

The book covers the entirety of Lee's life, from his birth at Stratford Hall, Virginia in 1807, to his death in Lexington, Virginia. I feel the strength of the book is the author's evaluation of the major campaigns Lee was in during the War For Southern Independence. It is a really good refresher on the major decisions Lee had to make, the things he was aware of at the time, and pluses and minuses of those decisions. Hindsight is always 20-20, so it is good to know how important the contemporary fog-of-war is in any battle. Lee knew the value of intelligence, and was always at his best when he had a wealth of information at hand before he made his final decision. That is why he was so disgruntled about Gen. JEB Stuart's absence to the critical buildup period prior to the Battle of Gettysburg, as Trudeau points out. Gettysburg was Lee's first major battle without Stonewall Jackson, and he was additionally hampered by Stuart not being available. Lee always had complete confidence in the information Stuart brought him.

The book is also well-written, enjoyable to read and has a fast-moving pace. It is the type of book I can really get into and find hard to put down. The maps, supplied by Trudeau himself, were another important help to the reader to better visualize what's being written about.

Robert E. Lee: Lessons In Leadership by Noah Andre Trudeau; Palgrave Macmillan, New York, N.Y. 2009; 233 pages, black and white photos and illustrations; notes, index; $25 hardback.

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