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Publisher's Summary

A WALL STREET JOURNAL BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR • From the award-winning historian and best-selling author of Gettysburg comes the definitive biography of Robert E. Lee. An intimate look at the Confederate general in all his complexity—his hypocrisy and courage, his inner turmoil and outward calm, his disloyalty and his honor.

"An important contribution to reconciling the myths with the facts." —New York Times Book Review

Robert E. Lee is one of the most confounding figures in American history. Lee betrayed his nation in order to defend his home state and uphold the slave system he claimed to oppose. He was a traitor to the country he swore to serve as an Army officer, and yet he was admired even by his enemies for his composure and leadership. He considered slavery immoral, but benefited from inherited slaves and fought to defend the institution. And behind his genteel demeanor and perfectionism lurked the insecurities of a man haunted by the legacy of a father who stained the family name by declaring bankruptcy and who disappeared when Robert was just six years old.

In Robert E. Lee, the award-winning historian Allen Guelzo has written the definitive biography of the general, following him from his refined upbringing in Virginia high society, to his long career in the U.S. Army, his agonized decision to side with Virginia when it seceded from the Union, and his leadership during the Civil War. Above all, Guelzo captures Robert E. Lee in all his complexity--his hypocrisy and courage, his outward calm and inner turmoil, his honor and his disloyalty.

©2021 Allen C. Guelzo (P)2021 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

A Wall Street Journal Best Book of the Year

"Allen C. Guelzo, an eminent Civil War historian, has now published exactly what the nation needs as it reappraises important historical figures who lived in challenging times with assumptions radically unlike today’s. Robert E. Lee: A Life, Guelzo’s scrupulously measured assessment, is mercifully free of the grandstanding by which many moralists nowadays celebrate themselves by indignantly deploring the shortcomings of those whose behavior offends current sensibilities. But by casting a cool eye on Lee, Guelzo allows facts to validate today’s removals of Lee’s name and statues from public buildings and places... Guelzo’s biography is necessary." —George F. Will, Washington Post

"In Robert E. Lee, Allen C. Guelzo punctures the Lost Cause mythology without indulging in culture-war polemics, and he examines Lee’s life and moral culpability with a judicious eye." —Fergus M. Bordewich, Wall Street Journal

"A deeply researched character study... Crisp and sound...  Allen C. Guelzo’s fine biography is an important contribution to reconciling the myths with the facts." —David Goldfield, New York Times Book Review 

What listeners say about Robert E. Lee

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Unfortunately falls into judging Lee like CNN

It never really feels like the entire story almost like this is a cash grab. The book starts out spouting contemporary talking points and judging Lee based on post 2020 riots. That fortunately subsides and goes into the story of Lee but it doesn't feel in-depth. Maybe I'm use to long biographies. Not really sure what we were aiming at here, or what story we were telling they hadn't been told before. it's sad we don't have a autobiography from Lee himself. The end of the book buys into the lie of Charlottesville spouted by CNN and even brings up George Floyd. Bringing a career drug addict and criminal like Floyd into a book about Lee is disgusting. The riots to topple our statues and erase our history is the same used to create the USSR a hundred years ago and should be fought vigorously, but unfortunately sports ball and videogames will keep the masses entertained enough so they don't notice our culture and country being erased. We should should embrace the heroes of our passed considering we have such very few today. Robert E. Lee is one, Thomas Jackson, Sherman, Grant, Mosby, Forrest, Washington,Andrew Jackson, Scott, Eisenhower, Patton...we have had an amazing history of military commanders.As for a book on Lee, look elsewhere before 2015 as our institutions were infected with anti America hatred.

13 people found this helpful

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balanced, well documented and reasoned

well written and researched, the book explains Lee and gives plausible descriptions of his motivations. you won't love Lee at the end, but you will understand him better.

7 people found this helpful

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Thorough thoughtful biography of Lee

A fair minded biography dealing equally with all 3 phases of Lee’s life: pre civil war, civil war, and post civil war. This was not great story telling but it was a reasonably full and methodical recounting and accounting of Lee’s life. The conclusion which the author seems to have reached, was that Lee was a great general and a decent man, but NOT a great man. A conclusion which appears to be born out by the facts.

3 people found this helpful

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Excellent Bio

This is an excellent, balanced overview of Robert E Lee’s life, ably describing the man’s talents while being unsparing about his flaws and his crimes. Highly recommended.

2 people found this helpful

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Salute to ACG

The narrator was excellent! The book was well researched. This book is not about the fanciful nor the evil southerner Lee, but the human being. It was exactly what I was looking for and the author stayed nuetral and delivered the facts about the whole family. Well done!

1 person found this helpful

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Corrects the record as few other books .

Grateful for your balanced perspective. Puts big dent in the big lie AKA the lost cause.

1 person found this helpful

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Guelzo brings light to a subject who invites too much heat

Guelzo offers an admirable primer of a Lee who is neither marble nor monster, but a fallen man: brilliant general, self-disciplined, racially retrograde, self-pitying, civically minded…he demonstrates how Lee embodies the best and worst of America’s past and character.

1 person found this helpful

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Timely though ambivalent assessment

Overall I'm still left with a negative feeling about Lee in part due to the way the "Lost Cause" proponents have cast him as the preeminent symbol of the righteousness of the Confederacy as well as an impression left by the author that Lee personally was rather unremarkable, I'm still in the process of revising the miseducation about the Civil War that I experienced growing up in the South in the '50s & '60s. Guelzo's book furthers that process by depicting Lee as a man of his time and his society. The best parts of the book are the chapters about his last five years and the assessment of his legacy. The conclusions about treason are resonate with current events following the aftermath of 6 January 2021 insurrection.

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Fair

The fair and even writing is both compelling and enlightening as some of my preconceived notions were either proven true or false. I now have a fuller picture of this complicated figure in our history. I also want to state how exceptional Jason Culp was as the narrator — well done!

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Outstanding biography, with great context material

Very pleased with this biography. I was already familiar with Lee's life & even more so, with the history of the Civil War, but still learned more about both subjects. Especially in the area of Lee's pre-war life, his family relationships, & his post-war life. I found the treatment very balanced, neither condemnatory or laudatory of Lee -- in terms of his racial/slavery attitudes, his strengths & weaknesses as a war strategist & tactician. The forward to the book led me to think it would be rather condemnatory of Lee's attitudes about slavery, but rather, in fact, he was remarkably mile (but still racist of course) compared to most other leaders of Confederate politics & military. The narrative is well-structured, never flags, the narration is outstanding.