Tuesday, January 11, 2011

BookSneeze Review: Lee, A Life of Virtue by John Perry

I recently obtained an advance review copy of this book from Booksneeze. I was intrigued by this statement on the back cover: "Traitor. Divider. Defender of slavery. This damning portrayal of Robert E. Lee has persisted through 150 years of history books. And yet it has no basis in fact." Strong words, these. Yet I was puzzled as well, for this supposed pervasive portrayal of Lee was something I failed to identify with. To the contrary, every previous Civil War book I had read, both pro and anti-Southern, conveyed only admiration for General Lee. Had I somehow missed something? This could hardly be reason enough to write a new biography about a man who has already had numberless words written about his life. The editor's note helped me to understand the motivation for this new series about American Generals. Stephen Mansfield asserts that most that has been written about the lives of American military leaders falls into two opposing categories, hagiography and revisionist history (in which the subject is a "reviled symbol of societal ills"). He states that it is time for a balance portrayal of our leaders, one that gives honour where it is due, and yet does not gloss over human frailty. More than that, the intent of the series is to "help us learn the lessons they [these generals] have to teach". (p.x) In the author's introduction, Perry proposes to answer the questions "Who was the real Robert E. Lee, how did he become the man he was, and how is the genuine article different from the myth?"(p.xviii)

As I read the biography, I was most struck by the difficulty Lee faced in balancing his sense of duty to his country with his devotion to his family. During his more than 30 years of service in the U.S. Army, he experienced many lengthy separations from his wife and children. Some of the agony he felt comes out in some of the letters to his wife, Mary Anna Custis, which the author quotes at length. Perry also brings out the close connection that Mary Anna's family had to George Washington, whose memory was still fresh in many American minds during the early 1800's. Even at such an early date, there emerge strong hints of the popular mythology that was to grow around the first President of the United States.

Drawing heavily from personal letters and J.William Jones' biography of Lee, Perry concludes that "Lee was not an infallible commander. His recurring flaw was to assume his subordinates had the same energy, bravery, resolve, and sense of self-sacrifice he did and then plan accordingly. ... Yet, ... Lee was a great leader...because he never abandoned his personal standards, [and] never wavered from doing what he thought was right even in the face of inevitable, crushing, devastating consequences." (p. 226) I found the book easy to read, and think that Perry a fair job in accomplishing his stated goals in writing the book. However, I would have appreciated more detailed references, rather than the rather short bibliography given at the end.

Monday, January 03, 2011

2010 in Books (Kara's list)

At the start of each new year, I like to look over all the books I read in the previous year. Sometimes I post the list on the blog. So here are all the new-to-me books I read in 2010, with my favourites in italics:

  1. The Paideia of God by Douglas Wilson
  2. Soul Survivor by Philip Yancey
  3. Asterix the Legionary
  4. Asterix in Spain
  5. Asterix in Britain
  6. Paddington Marches on by Michael Bond
  7. One Flesh by Amelia and Greg Clarke
  8. The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Travel by Joshua Piven and David Borgenicht
  9. Asterix the Gaul
  10. Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller
  11. Chocolat by Joanne Harris
  12. Riverside Cup of Tea Recipes by Linda Lamp
  13. Tolkien's Gown and other stories of great authors and rare books by Rick Gekoski
  14. For the Children's Sake by Susan Schaeffer Macaulay
  15. Girl Meets God by Lauren F. Winner
  16. The Flying Inn by G.K. Chesterton
  17. A Girl at Government House, ed. by Helen Vellacott
  18. Pride and Predator by Sally S. Wright
  19. Changing Planes by Ursula LeGuin
  20. Bobby Brewster's Ghost by H. E. Todd
  21. The Dream of Scipio by Iain Pears
  22. Jane Austen by Peter Leithart
  23. The Immortal Lovers, Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning by Frances Winwar
  24. Henry Reed's Baby-sitting Service by Keith Robertson
  25. Mudhouse Sabbath by Lauren Winner
  26. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
  27. Wild Yam, Nature's Progesterone by Rita Elkins
  28. The Mystery of the Screaming Clock by Robert Arthur
  29. Pajama School by Natalie Wickham
  30. Reformed is Not Enough by Douglas Wilson
  31. The Chase by Louisa May Alcott
  32. Monsoon Diary by Shoba Narayan
  33. 50 Great Curries of India by Camellia Panjabi
  34. Searching for God Knows What by Donald Miller
  35. Healthy Indian in Minutes by Monisha Bharadwaj
  36. Turkish Cooking by Ghillie Gasan
  37. North African Cooking by Tess Mallos
  38. Repairing the Ruins, ed. Douglas Wilson
  39. Honey for a Child's Heart by Gladys Hunt
  40. Psmith Journalist by P.G. Wodehouse
  41. Watership Down by Richard Adams
  42. Curry (Dorling Kindersley)
  43. A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L'Engle
  44. A Primer on Worship and Reformation by Douglas Wilson
  45. Gingerbread Baby by Jan Brett
  46. A Walk with Jane Austen by Lori Smith
  47. A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L'Engle
  48. Eating with Emperors by Jake Smith
  49. Around the World in 80 Dinners by Bill and Cheryl Jamison
  50. An Acceptable Time by Madeleine L'Engle
  51. The Age of Kali by William Dalrymple
  52. Jamie's Dinners by Jamie Oliver
  53. Gordon Ramsay's Great Escape
  54. One Rue Tatin by Susan Loomis
  55. Tarte Tatin by Susan Loomis
  56. Amy's Bread by Amy Scherber and Toy Kim Dupree
  57. Many Waters by Madeleine L'Engle
  58. The Italian Baker by Carol Field
  59. Turquoise by Greg and Lucy Malouf
  60. Blessed are the Hungry by Peter Leithart
  61. Cat O' Nine Tales by Jeffrey Archer
  62. To Cut a Long Story Short by Jeffrey Archer
  63. Lee, A Life of Virtue by John Perry
  64. Heaven Misplaced by Douglas Wilson
  65. Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton
  66. Eddie's Big Deals by Carolyn Haywood

Kara's Reading Goals for 2011

Last year I listed twelve books, chosen to fill out a well-rounded set of genres . This year, I just made a list of the books I want to read, and then found categories to put them in. I intended to stop at twelve, but just couldn't. So here are the thirteen books I plan to read in 2011.


Eat this Book by Eugene Peterson

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

For some reason, I've not yet read this.

Letters to a Diminished Church by Dorothy L. Sayers

Biblical Studies:

Through New Eyes by James Jordan In progress

Gospel and Kingdom by Graeme Goldsworthy Finished

Both books highly recommended by my husband.


Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard Finished

This got a mention in Yancey's Soul Survivor, which I read a year ago.


Jeeves in the Offing by P.G. Wodehouse Finished

Because one must always have some Wodehouse at hand.

Three Men on the Bummel by Jerome K. Jerome Began and finished in January

Because my dear sister says this is just as funny as Three Men in a Boat.

Children's book:

Redwall by Brian Jacques Finished


A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken


Untune the Sky by Douglas Wilson Finished


In Xanadu by William Dalrymple Finished

Now that I've read everything else in the house by Dalrymple, it's time to read his account of travelling in the steps of Marco Polo.


The Journey by Peter Kreeft