American Soldier of Fortune
Published by: The University Press of Kentucky
Imprint: The University Press of Kentucky
As a five-feet-three-inch hunchback who weighed about 100 pounds, Homer Lea (1876–1912), was an unlikely candidate for life on the battlefield, yet he became a world-renowned military hero. Homer Lea: American Soldier of Fortune paints a revealing portrait of a diminutive yet determined man who never earned his valor on the field of battle, but left an indelible mark on his times.
Lawrence M. Kaplan draws from extensive research to illuminate the life of a "man of mystery," while also yielding a clearer understanding of the early twentieth-century Chinese underground reform and revolutionary movements. Lea's career began in the inner circles of a powerful Chinese movement in San Francisco that led him to a generalship during the Boxer Rebellion. Fixated with commanding his own Chinese army, Lea's inflated aspirations were almost always dashed by reality. Although he never achieved the leadership role for which he strived, he became a trusted advisor to revolutionary leader Dr. Sun Yat-sen during the 1911 revolution that overthrew the Manchu Dynasty.
As an author, Lea garnered fame for two books on geopolitics: The Valor of Ignorance, which examined weaknesses in the American defenses and included dire warnings of an impending Japanese-American war, and The Day of the Saxon, which predicted the decline of the British Empire. More than a character study, Homer Lea provides insight into the establishment and execution of underground reform and revolutionary movements within U.S. immigrant communities and in southern China, as well as early twentieth-century geopolitical thought.
"The story of Homer Lea's involvement and adventures with Chinese reformers and revolutionaries both in the United States and China in the early-twentieth-century could come directly from a modern novel of international intrigue."—John T. Greenwood, editor of Normandy to Victory: The War Diary of General Courtney H. Hodges and the First U.S. Army
"What we knew hitherto about the self-proclaimed 'General,' Homer Lea, was based on a jumble of often contradictory or problematic sources. Lawrence Kaplan cuts through the myths and offers a coherent and convincing analysis of Lea's actual connections with Chinese reformers and his role in the training of Chinese military cadets in the United States over a century ago. An intriguing tale."—Jonathan Spence, author of The Search for Modern China
""An excellent biography of a largely forgotten extraordinary man. Despite ill health throughout his 35 years, Lea served briefly as a general in the Chinese Army and was Sun Yat Sen's military advisor. He became famous because of his book in 1909 about a future war with the United States that Japan would initiate with a surprise attack. Three years later, in another book, he predicted that Germany and Russia would be major threats to Britain and the United States. His fascinating life is well told in this biography."—Mac Coffman, author of The War to End All Wars"
"The five-foot-three-inch hunchback who only weighed 100 pounds and dropped out of Stanford College managed to convince high-ranking Chinese officials that he was not only a military expert but also the relative of the famous Confederate General Robert E. Lee. With his proclamation he found himself poised on the brink of immense change in the Chinese government."—Military Review
"A full biography of a... western military dreamer with grand designs for China."—Diplomat & International Canada
"An extraordinary contribution to the history of American-Chinese relations and the book belongs to libraries worldwide."—Center for Research of Geopolitics
"This book is probably as thorough a recounting of Lea's life as there will ever be."—Journal of America's Military Past
"His documentation is thorough, and he supplements the text with unique and supporting color plates from both family and personal collections."—Military Review
"An interesting, sometimes, amusing read, Homer Lea is particularly valuable in reminding us that clandestine international political networks and military organizations are not new developments."—NYMAS
"Now largely forgotten, Homer Lea, from the late 1890s until his death in 1912 at a few days short of age 36, played a significant role in China's access to the highest political circles on three continents and responsibility for recruiting and training some 2,000 young Chinese-American men to serve as officers for the cause."—New York Military Affairs Symposium Review
Kaplan has undertaken a difficult task, well accomplished, in reconstructing a biography of a figure who was controversial while living and continued to be after his death. This book will be of value to those whose interests are in the areas of Sino-American relations, American adventurers, or the events leading to the Pacific War.~Journal of Military History
- William E. Colby Award
- George Pendleton Prize
- Arthur Goodzeit Book Award
- John K. Fairbank Award
- Distinguished Book Award