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Biography Review    

 

Robert E. Lee
By Roy Blount, Jr.
Penguin Lives Series
Lipper Viking, 2003
Hardcover, $19.95 (210 pages)
ISBN: 0-670-0320-4
 
 
In 1997 James Atlas had a "literary epiphany." After spending years working on lengthy biographies of Delmore Schwartz and Saul Bellow, he decided shorter biographies would sell. He also believed readers would buy and enjoy short biographies written by famous contemporary authors. After publishing over thirty titles, the publishers have decided to end the series, which is a pity. Each of the books has been well written, interesting, and worth any
reader's time. Roy Blount, Jr.'s biography on Robert E. Lee is insightful, generous, and appealing.
 
Often caricatured, stereotyped or forgotten, Lee's an enigma. His family was one of the illustrious Lees of Virginia. Four of his father's cousins were members of the Continental Congress. The family was "so prominent, indeed, that other families expressed resentment that the Lees were hogging the Revolution." His father ("Light-Horse Harry") was a hero with a scandalous past Lee spent a lifetime trying to overcome.
 
Lee's mother (Ann Carter Lee) was a great beauty whose husband left her for long periods of time. Robert was the youngest of their five children who survived infancy. Robert became her nurse and confidant. It pained his mother that the family had no money to send her favorite child to the best schools. Consequently, he attended West Point where he overcompensated
hoping to balance his perception of his father's disgrace of the family by building an honorable reputation for himself.
 
In 1861 Lee was Lincoln's first choice to lead the Union troops. As a Virginian, Lee felt an allegiance to the Confederates. He led his half-starved troops with a "sorrowful sense of responsibility."
 
Roy Blount, Jr. has written a compelling biography of a complicated man and reluctant soldier.
 
Blount grew up in Georgia and served in the army. He appears regularly on public radio, has written for magazines as diverse as Sports Illustrated and The Atlantic, and is the author of a memoir, Be Sweet. He currently "lives mostly in Massachusetts."
 
Pam Kingsbury
Southern Scribe Reviews

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