Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee by Michael Korda

Clouds of Glory: the Life and Legend of Robert E. LeeClouds of Glory is not the definitive book on Robert E. Lee, but not even Douglas Freeman was able to do this in four volumes. Highly readable, Clouds of Glory is largely sympathetic to Lee. Korda does not present much in the way of new information. There is little analysis of Lee’s impact on postwar national culture. But Korda does an excellent job of describing Lee’s family and youth. Surprisingly, he shows that Lee was flirtatious and adored his children. The book also recounts how Lee’s life was shaped by his religious beliefs and the strong anti-federalist tradition in his family.

The account of Lee’s service in the war with Mexico is superb. Usually thought of as a minor conflict, Korda amply demonstrates that the Mexican war led directly to the Civil War. His descriptions Lee’s Civil War battles are pretty conventional, yet he does present Lee’s strategic thinking clearly and concisely. He also details Lee’s challenges working with Jefferson Davis, who was notorious for micromanaging and compartmentalizing the war. Korda also gives a compelling view of Lee at Gettysburg, making the case that, in the end, Lee’s leadership style and, in Lee’s own words, his overconfidence in the abilities of his men were key factors in the Confederate failure there. Lee worked best with aggressive subordinates like Stonewall Jackson, but fared poorly with those that needed a firm hand such as Richard Ewell. But still, it’s hard to fault Lee’s overall utilization of the scant resources available to him.

Korda presents Lee’s view on slavery as being benign and moderate, which has been somewhat disputed by recent evidence. But Clouds of Glory is a fine complement to the books of Burke Davis and Emory Thomas. Korda’s book is highly recommended for those seeking a better understanding of Robert E. Lee, the Confederacy, and the Civil War. Lee was one of the few leaders of the Civil War who did not write a memoir. There is much about Lee that can never be known, but Korda provides a glimpse of the “marble man.”

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Join us at the Southeast Regional Library on November 1st at 2 p.m. for the opening ceremonies of the Wake County Public Libraries participation in Civil War 150, a national program designed to encourage public exploration of the American Civil War.

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