In Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee, Michael Korda, the New York Times best-selling biographer of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ulysses S. Grant, and T. E. Lawrence, has written the first major biography of Lee in nearly 20 years, bringing to life America's greatest and most iconic hero. Korda paints a vivid and admiring portrait of Lee as a general and a devoted family man who, though he disliked slavery and was not in favor of secession, turned down command of the Union army in 1861 because he could not "draw his sword" against his own children, his neighbors, and his beloved Virginia. He was surely America's preeminent military leader, as calm, dignified, and commanding a presence in defeat as he was in victory. Lee's reputation has only grown in the 150 years since the Civil War, and Korda covers in groundbreaking detail all of Lee's battles and traces the making of a great man's undeniable reputation on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line, positioning him finally as the symbolic martyr-hero of the Southern Cause.
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I am an avid eclectic reader.
It has been many years since I have read anything about Robert E. Lee. I saw this new biography by Michael Korda and grabbed it. Michael Korda is the son of English actress Gertrude Musgrove and film production designer Vincent Korda. His uncle was Sir Alexander Korda the famous British film producer and director. In 2004 he wrote “Ulysses S. Grant: The Unlikely Hero” and in 2008 “Ike: An American Hero”.
In this exhaustive study Korda examines the life and times of Robert E. Lee from birth to death, illuminating not just the man, but his extended family and the society which produced him. The book traces Lee’s life from relationship with his father, the famous light cavalry leader light horse Harry Lee to his marriage to Mary Custis and his own relationships to his seven children. Lee’s mother was Ann Hill Carter; she was raised at the famous Shirley Plantation on the James River. Ann was from one of the wealthiest and oldest families of Virginia. Lee graduated second in his class at West Point. He was one of the rare cadets that graduated without a demerit. Lee was commissioned into the engineers and spent several years building coastal fortification. Lee became famous for diverting the course of the Mississippi river at St Louis, improving the port and allowing for river navigation from New Orleans to St Paul.
Korda provides a crisp and concise account of Lee’s major engagements. The author is good at explaining Lee’s strategic thinking, maneuvering of armies and the sometimes crippling limitations imposed by logistics, bad maps and worse roads. Korda has a knack for describing the complex unfolding of Civil War battles in lucid prose. Most of the book consist of gripping, if perhaps, excessively lengthy, accounts of Lee’s military campaigns. Korda clearly has command of the life and times of Lee. All three of Lee’s sons fought for the confederacy and General Lee would run into them periodically on an off the battlefield, including his son Rooney as he was being carried from the field with a serious leg wound. Michael Korda’s mastery of such details adds texture to his account. The reader learns that none of Lee’s four daughters married and his sister sided with the Union for which his nephew fought. Lee lost his two homes, Arlington the Union confiscated and the White House (Martha Curtis Washington home), the Union burned to the ground. Lee’s wife was Martha Washington granddaughter. The war’s devastation did not spare lee’s family.
“Clouds of Glory” is unfortunately marred by more than a few annoying errors of fact that should have been picked up in editing. For example, Northern politicians with Southern leaning were called “doughfaces” not “doughboys”. At the time of the Nat Turner rebellion in 1831, the enslaved population of the United States was two million not four million. The Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed in 1854 not 1845. This is a very long book and it suffers on occasion from redundancy and inadequate organization. The book suffers for the want of good editing.
As its subtitle suggest, one of Michael Korda’s aims in “Clouds of Glory” is disentangling Lee for his myth. In this he mostly succeeds. Although it appears Korda greatly admired Lee, he challenges the image of a man who could do no wrong. Jack Garrett did an excellent job narrating the book.
The reader should've familiarized himself with local pronunciations of towns, but otherwise enjoyable.
It's an interesting subject, and the story is reasonably well told.
The author seems to have a higher opinion of his writing skill than his talent warrants. It comes across as informative, but as if it were written by a precocious sophomore. The author takes certain liberties with his assertions from time to time, and clearly bungles his facts once or twice. The book would serve as a nice, if somewhat overwrought introduction to Robert E. Lee, but it produces no new scholarship or substance on the topic.
Most Lee biographies treat him like he's a god. This one doesn't gloss over his flaws which humanizes him in way other biographies I've read of Lee did not. I highly recommend it.
It seemed to be more of a bio of John Brown and made odd comparisons.
I endured the content of the book because Garrett is such a fine reader until in disgust I just could listen to no more.
Read Freeman's four volumes and don't buy this book.
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.
Some of the reviews criticize the author for just rehashing old biographical information about Lee and not coming up with anything new. However, since I have never read a biography of Lee before, this did not bother me. I thought the author did a good job of giving the various points of view on certain topics and then stating his own conclusion. Well written and well narrated.
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.
Despite occasional typos this book cuts a third way between the Lost Cause and Longstreet school. It strives to be fair in answering those questions of why the ANV lost Gettysburg and the war. I thought it a good read.
I will wait a couple of years and listen again.
Well known history but written in a way that it seemed like all new information. Classic biographical piece.
Garrett was the right choice for presenting this great historical figure.
I was sorry to have the book end.
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