Reading the Manby Elizabeth Brown Pryor
To most , Robert E. Lee is a beloved tragic figure of a bygone war—remembered by history as stoic and brave but without a true emotional life. Recently, however, historian Elizabeth Brown Pryor uncovered important documents that provide a stunning personal account of Lee’s military ability, his beliefs, and his time. Using dozens of previously
To most , Robert E. Lee is a beloved tragic figure of a bygone war—remembered by history as stoic and brave but without a true emotional life. Recently, however, historian Elizabeth Brown Pryor uncovered important documents that provide a stunning personal account of Lee’s military ability, his beliefs, and his time. Using dozens of previously unpublished letters as departure points, Pryor sheds new light on every aspect of this complex and contradictory general and questions our own understanding of loyalty and patriotism. This tantalizing glimpse of a legendary hero’s guarded soul will astonish and fascinate not only Civil War buffs, but anyone interested in this nation’s history.
- Penguin Publishing Group
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- Product dimensions:
- 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.50(d)
- Age Range:
- 18 Years
Meet the Author
Elizabeth Brown Pryor is an award-winning historian as well as a senior diplomat in the American Foreign Service. She was most recently a senior advisor on European affairs to the U.S. House and Senate.
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This work is an absolute marvel; not because of it's presentation or edification, but because of the breadth of research that was required to compose it. Pryor spent hundreds of painstaking hours reading barely legible hand-written letters by Lee and his family, all of which have been aged to the brink of dust by ~150 years worth of exposure. She also includes observations of Lee from a wide perspective of contemporaries of varying relationship to Lee; subordinate to superior, distantly involved to intimately involved. For example, during the later sections of the book, various recollections of Lee are provided from the letters of his lowest ranking soldiers, which must have involved a great deal of researching to attain. Pryor most certainly did her homework. But this is exactly why this book is such a disappointment. Despite the wealth of information and research that Pryor acquired on Lee, Pryor never makes it through a chapter without subjectively using the research to support her own opinion. I understand Pryor's attempt at self-proclaimed objectiveness, as it is very important when describing an individual so mythologized, but throughout the biography it is clear that Pryor's call to objectiveness is completely undermined by her overall goal to defame Lee. What effort she makes at being impartial is quickly dropped after a few pages in every chapter, almost with complete consistency. Each chapter is involved in a formulaic approach to vilify Lee. The chapters begin with a selection of one or more letters written either by Lee, or about him and his situation. The context of the letters is then discussed, with emphasis on their relationship to the current political situation in the country at the time, or to Lee’s personal environment at the time. Pryor would then use her research to discuss some facts about Lee’s situation, and then immediately dive in to the defamation of his character. By the end of each chapter, Pryor has either abandoned her research for a rampage of vilification or is on damage control, trying to salvage what is left from the object of the chapter after her tirade of libel. Pryor has extensively said that her goal when writing this book was to ‘humanize’ Lee through use of his own words, however, I suggest that her approach to the goal was too strong. In an attempt to humanize Lee, Pryor pushes too hard, and instead of assessing his achievements and failures through factual representation, she deviates into an onslaught of card stacking. She countlessly uses one-sided evidence without contesting opinions to support her ideas. It is hard to read this book without hearing a haughty tone from the prose, which ultimately detracts from the purpose of the biography. So while her intentions may be honest, the final product reads to my subjective mind as if Pryor has some sort of distaste of Lee’s reverence, and has made it her goal to prove that he is not worthy of the praise. Subjectively, as an old-cultured South Carolinian, I read this book expecting a plethora of facts about Lee’s life supported by Lee’s own personal words, from which I hoped to gain insight into his actual mindset and character. But I soon realized that what I was reading was a work of character assassination. Time and time again, Pryor detailed Lee through subjective lenses that distort facts, consistently comparing Lee’s political views to our modern era’s, and setting him up to fail. This originally made me put down the book for a while, but after I started it back up, I was delighted to find that despite Pryor’s endless attempts to defame and vilify Lee and his character, she fails.