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Is Robert E. Lee the Second-Most-Written-About American?

Originally published under Ask Mr. History. Published Online: June 18, 2013 
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There have been over 16,000 books written about an American, according to the Wall Street Journal: Abraham Lincoln.

Was Robert E. Lee the second-most written-about American? If so, what is the estimate of the number of books about Lee?

John Ellsworth Winter

? ? ?

Dear Mr. Winter,

I regret that I—and, for that matter, our Civil War editors—have been unable to find an exact number for Robert E. Lee biographies, which in any case are probably being added to even now. That said, he may very well be the second most chronicled of American figures, which is a sad commentary, given the fact that George Washington, to cite one outstanding example, has been more effectively shorn of mythos and propaganda than Lee, and what remains is still a remarkably impressive figure. Lee, on the other hand, reminds me of one theologian's metaphor for God—a giant pool in which everyone who views Him sees some of his/her own reflection in his/her perception. So it is with Lee, resulting in a confusing array of books to sort through, some debunking him, some vilifying him and some elevating him to impossible heights of infallible virtue. Significantly, virtually all of them were written after 1870, when Lee himself was not available to refute any of it…as he undoubtedly would have.



Jon Guttman
Research Director
Weider History Group
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One Response to “Is Robert E. Lee the Second-Most-Written-About American?”

  1. 1
    McMax says:

    In the author notes of his novel Hell or Richmond Ralph Peters says that a good modern biography of R.E. Lee is needed, that just about everything out there is hagiography.

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