You can now purchase Elizabeth Brown Pryor's much overrated book on Robert E. Lee: Reading the Man: A Portrait of Robert E. Lee Through His Private Letters,used for as little as 75 cents on Amazon. You can purchase a brand new copy for $2.00 dollars on Amazon. (As of today).
In comparison, you would pay $4.40 for a used copy of H.W. Crocker, III's Robert E. Lee on Leadership: Executive Lessons in Character, Courage, and Vision. A new copy will cost you $7.50.
Pryor's book was published in 2007, is 688 pages, and has received wide acclaim from academia. It currently ranks #17 on Amazon's list of books about General Lee. The following reviews are posted about Pryor's book on Lee:
“An unorthodox, critical, and engaging biography [that] impressively captures Lee’s character and personality.”
—The Boston Globe
“Pryor moves onto important historical and interpretive terrain with a far more discerning and critical eye than most of her scholarly or popular predecessors.”
—The New Republic (Notice the condescending tone of that review).
Crocker's book has been out since August of 2000 and, as this is being posted, ranks #2 on Amazon's list of books about General Lee.
Here are two samples of Amazon reviews on Crocker's book:
"Harry Crocker has provided a great service by reminding us through this moving and tightly written biography that winning isn't the only thing: faithfulness and honor live in our memories after the guns are silent."
—Marvin Olasky, author of the bestselling Renewing American Compassion and The American Leadership Tradition
"A masterpiece--the best work of its kind I have ever read. Crocker's Lee is a Lee for all leaders to study; and to work, quite deliberately, to emulate."
— Major General Josiah Bunting III, superintendent of the Virginia Military Institute
Kevin, who I would certainly consider a "progressive" historian, calls Pryor's work "a fabulous biography." The marketplace would appear to be in disagreement. Please understand that I'm not necessarily suggesting that the facts presented here always determine the true value and quality of a work; much of that is governed by the individual taste of the reader and subjective preferences. I also realize this is by no means a conclusive, scientific comparison but, I do think it is, in some ways, indicative of longstanding trends in the public's appetite for historically based works. I also think all this raises some interesting questions.
I'd like to pose some of those questions for readers' consideration:
- What does this say about the two books, particularly in regards to Dana Shoaf's recent comments that, "The problem with academic historians is they are not reaching a wide popular audience"? Is that due to the fact academics tend to, in general, be more critical of America's heroic icons and try to "deconstruct" them based on 21st standards of morality and conduct?
- It is, in my mind, quite significant that the marketplace of Amazon's popular audience has deemed Pryor's work to be of such little value in such short time while Crocker's book, which has been out for almost 10 years, outbids the former by a substantial amount. What dynamics are involved?
- It is primarily academia and more "progressive" interests that have lauded Pryor's work while it is "traditionalists", for the most part, who have praised Crocker's work. What does this, coupled with Amazon's ratings and pricing, and Shoaf's comments tell us and reveal about the two books?