... expertly scrubs off 150 years of political and cultural patina accumulated since the renowned general’s passing to reveal a tragic humanity ... Guelzo’s portrait of Lee in his 50s shows his ascension from worrywart to warrior to legend. Following the example of Lee’s early command method, his book surveys the battlegrounds as if through the general’s field glasses, sets the order of combat, then leaves the bloody details to the stacks of cap-and-ball tomes ... Guelzo’s formal yet enjoyable writing style evokes the period without getting lost in it. His presentation achieves relevance as America is once again riven with regional, cultural and political hostility. Is there a more appropriate time to consider Robert E. Lee’s fateful decision? ... After siding with the don’t-tread-on-me ethos of the South, Lee predicted and then witnessed how a resolute Union would defeat a fractious Confederacy. When modern disdain for the central government threatens to overwhelm the public trust in elections, vaccinations and even the concept of democracy itself, it is vital to remember that Lee’s choice of righteousness in his opinions over fidelity to his oath led himself and his homeland to ruin.
... an insightful portrait of Lee’s somewhat dysfunctional family ... Guelzo’s assessment of Lee as a military leader is convincing ... Guelzo’s evaluation of Lee’s military performance is more persuasive than his examination of Lee’s attitudes toward the South’s peculiar institution ... But it’s hard to believe that slavery was an 'abstraction' for Lee ... Lee may have professed a theoretical dislike of slavery on occasion, but his rhetoric frequently did not match his actions ... [a] mostly favorable appraisal of Lee ... I suspect many Americans are unwilling to offer 'mercy' to Lee, who fought so long and so effectively for a cause described by Ulysses S. Grant as 'one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse.'
This is a deeply researched character study, and Guelzo finds Lee’s character problematic ... Guelzo’s analysis of Lee’s leadership during the Civil War is crisp and sound ... Allen C. Guelzo’s fine biography is an important contribution to reconciling the myths with the facts.
Guelzo paints a nuanced portrait of Confederate Army general Robert E. Lee (1807–70) in this superb biography ... Guelzo gives due consideration to Civil War history without getting bogged down in extraneous details ... Based on family letters and other primary documents, this fine biography is a must-read for Civil War enthusiasts and those interested in Lee’s legacy.
... a thoughtful, measured, and deeply absorbing study of a man whose historical status depends on context: as a leader, he was a great man; as a defender of slavery, despicable ... It might have been easier simply to write a book that said Robert E. Lee was a villain and a traitor and that’s all he was, but Guelzo’s approach is far more nuanced and, ultimately, far more accurate and useful in its illumination of a key figure in this endlessly conflictful and impactful chapter in American history.
Lee’s military accomplishments and some of his failures are well known, and Guelzo describes them in deep detail. Much of this notable chronicle explores the inner character of the man who claimed to despise the institution of slavery but fought with and for those who wished to maintain it, freed some of his family’s slaves while encouraging them to repatriate to Africa, and did nothing to aid in the initiatives of Reconstruction ... In his astute epilogue, Guelzo gives fair voice to those who now would gladly see all images and reminders of Lee and his Southern comrades unceremoniously obliterated.
Allen C. Guelzo not only covers new ground with the incredible depth and breadth of his research, he does an exemplary job of showing how history should be written, keenly aware of historical context, contemporary values, and the space between them. As statues of Lee are taken down throughout the country, Guelzo could have written a cuttingly critical work. Instead, he is scrupulously even-handed, depicting Lee in all his glory and all his faults ... exhaustively researched ... Guelzo leads us through Lee’s fateful choices clearly and with a wealth of material. He neither exonerates nor blames Lee, instead presenting a clear portrait of the man and his times. He finishes with a strong epilogue of how Lee’s name has continued to echo to this day. Lee lives now as a symbol, one that we as a nation are still wrestling with how to handle. Reading more histories like these would be a good start to dealing with our country’s racist past and the ways it permeates into the present day.