Friday, March 27, 2009

Book 21: The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara

The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara


How it was obtained:
I apparently borrowed this from my parents, probably on one of their many attempts to purge books from their library and put them into mine. For that I am eternally grateful. Thanks mom and dad!

Time spent on the "to read" shelf:
2 or 3 years, I think.

Days spent reading it:
4 days.

Why I read it:
In High School we were allowed to choose between The Killer Angels and All Quiet on the Western Front. I thought I was smart back then, saw that The Killer Angels was about 350 pages, but All Quiet was about 150 (I don't remember exactly). I chose the shorter book. Today I read the longer book.

Brief review:
As I finished this book tonight, I was stunned. I was truly moved by the final chapters of The Killer Angels.
The novel is historical fiction based as closely to the real details of Gettysburg as the author could create. Shaara draws you into the time period, the characters, and the battle as if you were right there in 1863. Simply incredible.

There are a number of things that I liked about this novel. First, it was well written. From the first page on, the reader is drawn into the world of the officers and soldiers who met their fate at Gettysburg.
Second, the characters are well drawn out. Robert E. Lee comes to life on these pages. So do Longstreet, Picket, Chamberlain, and a host of others involved in this historic battle.
Third, Shaara writes about the complexity of "the Cause" of the Civil War. The fact is it was not just about slavery, but slavery was a major factor. The cause is complicated, both sides have different reasons for fighting. Sometimes people on the same side have vastly different reasons for fighting. Very fascinating look at the complexity of a war that we sometimes boil down to being just about slavery.
Finally, I love the humanity of this book. As Longstreet is forced to send thousands to their deaths, he literally seems to fall apart at the orders he must make. My english teachers from High School used to tell me "War is Hell." It seems that most books with war as their central theme talk about the hellish nature of war. This book paints that same picture, but it does it looking through the eyes of men who have been forced to make the decision to send men to their deaths. I cannot imagine what anguish their souls must have gone through after making those kinds of decisions.

Two quick personal notes of interest. First, in the book they mention that some soldiers would not actually fire against the opposing army. I saw a piece of a program that reported that some rifles had been found that had 20 or more rounds inside of them from soldiers who pretended to load and fire, but never did. That is completely fascinating to read about and to consider what kind of people were fighting and who they were forced to fight.
Second, I visited Gettysburg years ago during a spring break trip. All I remember is that it was cold and windy. I recall being on Cemetery Hill where Picket made his last charge. I wish I had known more about the battle when I was there. Perhaps I will be able to go back again someday and appreciate the battle site more than I did.

The scope of Gettysburg simply baffles me. But The Killer Angels paints a clear picture of the battle, the decisions that were made, and the military ramifications. The Killer Angels is a mandatory read for Civil War buffs. It is a worthy read for people interested in historical fiction, war in all of its complexity, and for Americans who want to learn more about their heritage.

Favorite quote:
"A little eccentricity is a help to a general. It helps with the newspapers. The women love it too. Southern women like their men religious and a little mad. That's why they always fall in love with preachers."

Stars: 5 out of 5.

Final Word:


Elizabeth said...

I too have enjoyed Shaara's historical writing. I'll sadly admit that I have learned practically all of the history I KNOW from novels. :-) Is that bad? I've learned lots of history from textbooks, but I the stuff I remember came from stories that fleshed out the history. I think Shaara is a master at this. Gods & Generals is also good.

Rob said...

Patrick, maybe the only book you have reviewed so far, that I have read. I agree it is excellent. You probably know that it is the second book of a trilogy. I also liked the three movies based on the trilogy.