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The Killer Angels: The John Jakes Library of Historical Fiction

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The Killer Angels ----The John Jakes Library of Historical Fiction----

30 review for The Killer Angels: The John Jakes Library of Historical Fiction

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jeffrey Keeten

    ”This is a different kind of army. If you look at history you’ll see men fight for pay, or women, or some other kind of loot. They fight for land, or because a king makes them, or just because they like killing. But we’re here for something new. I don’t … this hasn’t happened much in the history of the world. We’re an army going out to set other men free.” Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain The position of all the troops on July 3rd, 1863. The last day of battle. You can see the famous fishhook ”This is a different kind of army. If you look at history you’ll see men fight for pay, or women, or some other kind of loot. They fight for land, or because a king makes them, or just because they like killing. But we’re here for something new. I don’t … this hasn’t happened much in the history of the world. We’re an army going out to set other men free.” Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain The position of all the troops on July 3rd, 1863. The last day of battle. You can see the famous fishhook deployment of the Union troops in blue. I hadn’t really thought about how unusual it is in the history of the world for men to be fighting for the freedom of others. It was one of many times while reading this book that Michael Shaara crystallized some thoughts for me. I love those moments when I read something, and I know without a shadow of a doubt that another tumbler has clicked into place. With every click I have come one step closer to understanding everything. ( a mad thought that doesn’t last long) So the North was preserving the Union and freeing the slaves, but what exactly where the boys in butternut fighting for. ”They kept on insistin’ they wasn’t fightin’ for no slaves, they were fightin’ for their ‘rats.’ It finally dawned on me that what the feller meant was their ‘rights,’ only, the way they talk, it came out ‘rats.’... Then after that I asked this fella what rights he had that we were offendin’, and he said, well, he didn’t know, but he must have some rights he didn’t know nothin’ about. Now, aint that something?” 33% of Southerners owned slaves. Mississippi and South Carolina had much higher percentages at 49% and 46%. So why did all those Southern boys rich and poor fight for the ‘rats to keep slaves? Most Southern Americans, as do most Americans today, had an expectation that they would be rich someday, the eternal optimists. Those poor white sharecropper farmers aspired to be slave owners. It is the same reason why I hear people who live below the poverty line saying they didn’t believe it was ‘rat that the government was taxing the one percenters more than the rest of us. It doesn’t make sense, but then they...might...just win the lottery...someday. General Robert E. Lee on Traveller. Lee said, “Well, we have left nothing undone. It is all in the hands of God.” Longstreet thought : it isn’t God that is sending those men up that hill. But he said nothing. Lee rode away. This book is centered around the three days of the battle of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania. Robert E. Lee, overall commander of the Confederate army and GOD to many, is trying to make a final thrust North to force the Union to seek terms. His men loved him unconditionally. ”The secret of General Lee is that men love him and follow him with faith in him. That’s one secret. The next secret is that General Lee makes a decision and he moves, with guts, and he’s been up against a lot of sickly generals who don’t know how to make decisions, although some of them have guts but whose men don’t love them.” He is a different man than he was at the start of the war. Some would say he is a brilliant tactician, but if you walk the grounds of the battle of Gettysburg which I have not had that opportunity physically, you will discover that Lee gave his generals an impossible task. The battle smells of desperation. Shaara makes the case that Lee was already suffering from the heart condition that would eventually kill him. ”But it was not the pain that troubled him; it was a sick gray emptiness he knew too well, that sense of a hole clear through him like the blasted vacancy in the air behind a shell burst, an enormous emptiness.” General James Longstreet loyal despite his fervent disagreements with Lee on tactics. Lee was feeling weak and mortal at Gettysburg. He wanted the war ended now. It certainly clouded his judgement. He was a man of faith and honor. In Pennsylvania he put too much faith in God finding his cause righteous and he depending too heavily on the honor of his troops to make it to that grove of trees at the top of the hill. He had a brilliant commander in Lieutenant General James Longstreet. Longstreet argued to slide around the enemy and to fight another day. If truth be known he disagreed with this whole thrusting North business. He wanted to build trenches and fight a defensive war. You don’t win glorious honorable battles fighting a defensive war and Lee was addicted to winning battles. There is a whiff of Shakespearean tragedy around Longstreet. ”It was Longstreet’s curse to see the thing clearly. He was a brilliant man who was slow in speech and slow to move and silent-faced as stone. He had not the power to convince.” He was a strong, commanding figure until he got around Lee. ”Longstreet felt an extraordinary confusion. He had a moment without confidence, windblown and blasted, vacant as an exploded shell. There was a grandness in Lee that shadowed him, silenced him.” He was an eccentric as well. He was living more in his mind than in his body. ”Longstreet touched his cap, came heavily down from the horse. He was taller than Lee, head like a boulder, full-bearded, long-haired, always a bit sloppy, gloomy, shocked his staff by going into battle once wearing carpet slippers.” Lee counted on him, but unfortunately he would have traded Longstreet for Stonewall Jackson every day of the week and twice on Sunday. General John Buford died a few months after Gettysburg from Typhoid Fever. He was a huge loss to the Union side. Shaara also takes us into the minds of Union men like General John Buford who arrived at Gettysburg and realized the importance of deploying troops on the high ground against a superior Confederate force. He knew he had to hold out until reinforcements arrived. He’d done this before. ”He had thrown away the book of cavalry doctrine and they loved him for it. At Thoroughfare Gap he had held against Longstreet, 3,000 men against 25,000, for six hours, sending off appeal after appeal for help which never came.” What impressed me about Buford was his ability to think out of the box and adapt to any situation. Unfortunately for the Union he didn’t have long to live or his name may have been further immortalized in Civil War history books. General John Bell Hood There was also Colonel Joshua Chamberlain who commanded the 20th Maine. He was a school teacher by trade, a professor at Bowdoin before the war broke out. He and the Maine troops were positioned at the far left of the Federal line. He was on Little Round Top facing the seasoned veteran General John B. Hood. Hood was a Longstreet man and firmly believed in the concept of a defensive war. Despite their objections to Lee’s tactics Hood and Longstreet did everything they could to obtain the objectives. The 20th Maine’s bayonet charge. Chamberlain’s men fired until they ran out of bullets and then Chamberlain in an act of desperation yelled: ”Let’s fix bayonets.” Chamberlain and his remaining men charged down the hill in the face of enemy fire and because of the ferocity of their attack Hood’s men turned and retreated. There are descriptions of battles so elegantly told that the horror is somewhat mitigated by the eloquence of Shaara’s writing. Bravery is not just for Custeresque men like General Winfield Scott Hancock who inspired such loyalty from his acquaintances, even those dressed in gray, such as his best friend General Lewis Armistead. Shaara describes the true crisis of consciousness these officers were facing. Most of them had fought together in the Mexican-American war, went to West Point together, drank together, and had been united as one before this war where politics forced them to choose sides against the friends they had once fought with. ”They’re never quite the enemy, those boys in blue.” “I know,” Lee said. “I used to command those boys,” Longstreet said. “Difficult thing to fight men you used to command.” Lee said nothing.” By the end of this book I felt I knew all these men as intimately as I know friends I’ve known for decades. It is as if Shaara raised them from the dead, one by one. They are talking skeletons with nothing but truth rattling through their teeth. Their souls are showing through their pale gray ribcages enscrolled with their most intimate thoughts. They hid nothing from Shaara not their fears or their desires. The war has never been more real to me. Highly recommended! If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visithttp://www.jeffreykeeten.com I also have a Facebook blogger page at:https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten

  2. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    “Once Chamberlain had a speech memorized from Shakespeare and gave it proudly, the old man listening but not looking, and Chamberlain remembered it still. ‘What a piece of work is man…in action how like an angel!’ And the old man, grinning, had scratched his head and then said stiffly, ‘Well, boy, if he’s an angel, he’s a murderin’ angel.’” - Michael Shaara, The Killer Angels When it was first published, Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels landed with a thud. Even when it won the Pulitzer Prize for “Once Chamberlain had a speech memorized from Shakespeare and gave it proudly, the old man listening but not looking, and Chamberlain remembered it still. ‘What a piece of work is man…in action how like an angel!’ And the old man, grinning, had scratched his head and then said stiffly, ‘Well, boy, if he’s an angel, he’s a murderin’ angel.’” - Michael Shaara, The Killer Angels When it was first published, Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels landed with a thud. Even when it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1975, it did not gain a wide following. When Shaara passed away in 1988, he did so believing his novel to have underachieved (as far as Pulitzer Prize winners can ever be so considered). Then, in 1993, the film version, Gettysburg, was released in theaters. Though it did not prove a runaway box office hit, it did enough to lift The Killer Angels onto the bestseller lists. According to Shaara’s son, Jeff (who can start a bank with the books he’s sold by aping his father’s distinctive techniques), The Killer Angels was initially greeted with skepticism due to its release at the tail end of the Vietnam War. Maybe, or maybe not. The world, after all, is filled with great books that never found wide audiences. Still, there is some validity in the point. The Killer Angels is decidedly old-fashioned. It has none of the cynicism or darkness of modern war novels. I wouldn’t go so far as to say this is a pro-war book, but it embraces martial virtues with both its arms. In the world of The Killer Angels, when the characters aren’t thinking about duty, loyalty, and honor, they are giving speeches about it. The Killer Angels begins on the eve of the Civil War battle of Gettysburg, and takes us through each of the three bloody days as the Union and Confederacy clashed in the fields and hills around a small Pennsylvania crossroads village. In order to tell this story, Shaara employs viewpoint chapters in which the battle unfolds through the eyes of a limited number of characters. The characters are: the Confederate scout, Harrison; Confederate generals Robert E. Lee, James Longstreet, and Lewis Armistead; the British observer Fremantle; Union General John Buford; and Union Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, of the 20th Maine (whose posthumous reputation has spiked drastically because of this). Though the writing is in the third-person, each of the viewpoint chapters sticks to the thoughts, feelings, and actions of the chosen character. This leads to the kind of telescoping that is familiar to anyone who has read A Song of Ice and Fire. While we are ostensibly being treated to epic events, it sometimes feels like we’re viewing it through a keyhole. By focusing so rigidly on a handful of participants, you get a great sense of intimacy, at a loss of some of the scope. It’s impossible to talk about The Killer Angels without mentioning Shaara’s amazing style. He has an incredible eye for detail, the weather, the terrain, the colors, the sounds. He wraps you in these details until you feel like you’re present on the field. You feel like you could take this book to Gettysburg and find your way around. At times, he slips easily into a hypnotic stream-of-consciousness, punctuated by the use of the present tense, interior monologues, and his trademarked sentence fragments. (Though, if we’re being technical, I think Jeff Shaara has the trademark now). Shaara’s genius is in his characterizations. He brings Buford and Chamberlain and the others to life by embodying them, by inhabiting their minds. There is Lee, suddenly very old, suffering from heart disease, struggling with the loss of Jackson, unable to control his subordinates or get them to see his vision. He is courtly, saintly, pervaded by an unfortunate fatalism he wraps in a vague theology (“It’s in God’s hands now,” he intones repeatedly). There is Chamberlain, a professor of rhetoric, questioning everything, his thoughts, his actions, a true believer in the cause of freedom and Union, though he is constantly trying to define those things. And then there is Armistead, who gets only one chapter, during Pickett’s Charge, but remains perhaps the most powerful creation, a doomed romantic, mourning his broken friendship with Union General Winfield Hancock. In a novel short of female characters, the remembered bonds between Hancock and Armistead provide the love story. The best testament to the power of Shaara’s vision is that his fictionalized conception of these real life figures has gained such widespread traction. For instance, Shaara used Longstreet’s memoirs in his research; as such, Longstreet arises as something of a prophet, a man who can see the trenches of World War I just over the horizon, who believes that Lee’s aggressiveness will destroy the Confederacy. While effective, it is worth noting that Shaara’s concept of these men is not necessarily shared by all historians. The Killer Angels is not a graphic or gratuitous book. There are no curse words. Despite the presence of thousands of men, there is nary a dirty thought in the air. The violence is rather tame, at least relatively speaking. Yet Shaara still manages to deliver marvelous battle scenes, especially a memorable accounting of Pickett’s failed assault on the Union center. Garnett’s boys had reached the road. They were slowing, taking down rails. Musket fire was beginning to reach them. The great noise increased, beating of wings in the air. More dead men: a long neat line of dead, like a shattered fence. And now the canister, oh God, [Armistead] shuddered, millions of metal balls whirring through the air like startled quail, murderous quail, and now for the first time there was screaming, very bad sounds to hear. He began to move past wounded struggling to the rear, men falling out to help, heard the sergeants ordering the men back into line, saw gray faces as he passed, eyes sick with fear, but the line moved on… The Killer Angels does have its share of flaws, though they are slight. The cast of characters, for one, is a bit imbalanced. On the Confederate side, Longstreet is a Corps commander, while Lee is in charge of the whole Army. Meanwhile, on the Union side, Buford is in charge of a cavalry division, and disappears after the first day. Chamberlain commands only a regiment. This means you get a great sense of the Confederate strategy, while the Union strategy is reduced to slandering General George Meade (who, despite Shaara’s odd intransigence, was more than capable). Then there is the handling of slavery. Shaara acknowledges – or has his characters acknowledge – slavery as the root cause of the war on several occasions. He even has Longstreet admitting this. But Shaara also includes an interaction between Chamberlain and a runaway slave that I found a bit underdeveloped. In the scene, Chamberlain, despite his high ideals, finds himself revolted by the runaway, who is described in animal-like terms. The idea of exploring racism among Northern characters is not necessarily bad; if given the proper space, it might even have been meaningful. Unfortunately, Shaara never really expounds on the notion, leaving us with the disconcerting fact that Chamberlain is the only one in the book who is remotely racist. I feel like the inclusion of this requires an obverse scene, maybe one in which Lee oversees his men kidnapping and re-enslaving the unfortunate blacks who tarried in the invasion path. (Which is a thing that actually happened). These are really minor critiques. And yes, I understand this is a novel with a very specific storyline. Still, it bears mentioning, if only because this is a very good piece of historical fiction, and when historical fiction is really, really good, you sometimes start to forget it’s fiction and believe its historical. But while heavily researched (with the inclusion of more maps than you get in typical history volume), it is, when all is said and done, a product of imagination. The Killer Angels deserves its place in the pantheon of great American war novels. It is a fascinating study in command, so much so that it is often recommended to military officers in training. More than that, it is a touching exploration of the bonds and friendships between men, and the sentimental notion that these relationships mean more than nations. It is no surprise that Shaara chose the famous lines from E.M. Forster’s essay, What I believe, as his epigraph. “I hate the idea of causes,” Forster wrote, “And if I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.”

  3. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

    Michael Shaara's passion gave life to something unique and singularly extraordinary in this Pullitzer Prize winning novel. With high-charged, emotive prose, lush descriptions and fully-fleshed characters, he transforms the The Battle of Gettysburg, the bloodiest engagement of the Civil War, into a gorgeously rendered and deeply personal story populated by flawed, ordinary men caught in an extraordinary concatenation of circumstances by the machinations of Fate. Shaara’s reduction of this momen Michael Shaara's passion gave life to something unique and singularly extraordinary in this Pullitzer Prize winning novel. With high-charged, emotive prose, lush descriptions and fully-fleshed characters, he transforms the The Battle of Gettysburg, the bloodiest engagement of the Civil War, into a gorgeously rendered and deeply personal story populated by flawed, ordinary men caught in an extraordinary concatenation of circumstances by the machinations of Fate. Shaara’s reduction of this momentous event into a tapestry woven of a myriad of individual observations and subjective accounts so seamlessly alternates between heart-swelling and heart-wrenchingthat your own blood-pumper may need an overhaul by the time your finished. Shaara’s approach for this story was so revolutionary at the time that he couldn’t even find a publisher willing to distribute his novel. Recounting the period of June 30-July 3, 1863 (the day before and the 3 days of the Battle of Gettysburg), Shaara’s narrative filters the events surrounding the battle through the subjective lens of the leaders of the two armies. Today, his approach has been mimicked so often by those inspired by his achievement that it’s likely to feel familiar to those reading it for the first time (see reference to Ken Burn’s Civil War below). However, back in 1975, it was fresh and daring and unique. Shaara jumps back and forth between dozens of viewpoints, each serving an important function and providing a unique perspective on the events surrounding the conflict. The most notable players in Shaara’s epic play are: For the South: Commanding General Robert E. Lee, General George Pickett, General James Longstreet, and British Col. Arthur Freemantle; and For the North: Commanding General George Meade, General John Buford andCol. Josh Chamberlain. Through these soldiers and many others, Shaara emphasizes the motivations, decisions and actions of these men and how each of their unique and very human perspectives along with the ever present “fog of war” resulted in the final outcome at Gettysburg. Not being a Civil War buff, there was one part early in the story that I found fascinating to read. According to Shaara (and many historians I have come to find), but for one ambiguous order on the part of General Lee to his conservative cream-puff of a subordinate General, Richard Ewell, the South may very well have won the Battle of Gettysburg and drastically changed the outcome of the Civil War. Here is the order by General Lee as recounted by Shaara: Tell General Ewell the Federal troops are retreating in confusion. It is only necessary to push those people to get possession of those heights. Of course, I do not know his situation, and I do not want him to engage a superior force, but I do want him to take that hill, if he thinks practicable. (Emphasis added) Four simple words, “if he thinks practicable” were enough “wiggle room” to permit Ewell to justify ignoring Lee’s order and deciding against taking Cemetery Hill. This inaction allowed the Union to entrench themselves on the higher, well defended ground. Shaara goes on to make it clear (through Lee’s own personal musings) that if hard-charging, BSD Gen. Stonewall Jackson had not been killed weeks earlier, Cemetery Hill would’ve been taken and the outcome of the battle, and possibly of history, dramatically altered. Another moment of the novel that I found simply breath-stealing was the description of the battle of Little Round Top. A single regiment of Union soldiers (the 20th Maine), held off a superior force of confederate charges for well over an hour until they finally ran out of ammunition. With the confederate soldiers still advancing and no retreat possible: Chamberlain raised his saber, let loose the shout that was the greatest sound he could make, boiling the yell up from his chest: Fix bayonets! Charge! Fix bayonets! Charge! Fix bayonets! Charge! He leaped down from the boulder, still screaming, his voice beginning to crack and give, and all around him his men were roaring animal screams, and he saw the whole Regiment rising and pouring over the wall and beginning to bound down through the dark bushes, over the dead and dying and wounded.... The result was that the soldiers from the South broke in the face of the furious charge and the Union held Little Round Top. The fact that Chamberlain was a citizen solider (being a college professor before volunteering for the army) and yet acted so competently and with such courage was amazing to experience. Quite simply, this is an extraordinary novel. However, for two completely subjective (and probably unfair) reasons, I have elected to only rate this as a very strong 4 stars. Reason #1: is that the Civil War is not favorite period of American history and so my juices don’t flow as strongly when reading stories from this time as others more smitten with the events. Reason #2: goes by the name of Ken Burns and his brilliant mini-series, The Civil War. That masterpiece has ruined me for all other depictions of the conflict. The great irony is that Shaara’s novel was a major influence on Burns’s decision to create his mini-series in the first place and Burns adopted to a great degree the tone and style employed by Shaara. Alas, Ken Burns got to me first and his more expansive description of the war and the causes thereof keep him firmly dug in at the top of the charts. Still, a strong, strong, strong 4.5 stars and my HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATION!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Kemper

    This month marked the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg which we all know is the fight that took place when Abraham Lincoln wanted to make a speech at that address and then one of the neighbors got mad and challenged him. Or something like that. Ah, but seriously folks…. Gettysburg was the turning point of the American Civil War in which the Union forces defeated Robert E. Lee’s invading Confederate troops, but this isn’t a non-fiction book about the battle. Instead it’s a historical This month marked the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg which we all know is the fight that took place when Abraham Lincoln wanted to make a speech at that address and then one of the neighbors got mad and challenged him. Or something like that. Ah, but seriously folks…. Gettysburg was the turning point of the American Civil War in which the Union forces defeated Robert E. Lee’s invading Confederate troops, but this isn’t a non-fiction book about the battle. Instead it’s a historical fiction in which author Michael Shaara used research and literary license to put us into the minds of several key figures so that readers experience the fight through their eyes. For this re-read, I listened to the audible version, and it featured an interesting introduction from Shaara’s son, Jeff. (Who has followed his late father’s formula to write several other books about American history.) The younger Shaara tells of how his father’s book was rejected over a dozen times, was a commercial flop but won a Pulitzer Prize only to see no increase in its profile following the award. Michael died in 1988 thinking that the book would not be remembered. In an twist of fate, the movie adaptation Gettysburg that came out five years later would put the book on the best seller list almost twenty years after it was originally published. On the Confederate side, an ailing and weary Robert E. Lee has pinned his hopes to end the war on the idea of attacking and destroying the Union army on it’s own ground, but his top general, James Longstreet, was against the invasion since he believes the South’s military success has come from a defensive style of warfare. As they advance into Pennsylvania, they’ve been left with a dangerous lack of information about Union movements because cavalry officer J.E.B. Stuart has been failing to provide them with reports from his scouting mission. Both sides begin to converge on the small town of Gettysburg which has a valuable crossroads nearby, but Union cavalry officer John Buford is there first and immediately realizes that the hills and slopes outside of the town will give a huge advantage to the army that holds them. With the Confederate forces closing in fast, Buford occupies and tries to hold the good ground while urging the Union army to rush in and reinforce him. As troops pour into the area from both sides, they find themselves fighting in a battle no one had counted on. The Union troops manage to occupy the better positions as Longstreet desperately tries to convince Lee that attacking would be a major mistake, but Lee believes that his army can destroy the Union forces once and for all. This book and the subsequent film version would do a lot to make people reevaluate Longstreet’s reputation. He’d been scapegoated by other Confederate officers after the war for the defeat at Gettysburg, but Shaara’s version of events based on letters and diaries of those involved makes a convincing argument that it was Lee whose stubborn refusal to disengage and pick a better spot for a fight was the main culprit for the Confederate failure. Shaara also credits the forgotten Buford with being a major reason as to why the Union was able to seize the high ground. He also tells the story of another officer forgotten by mainstream American history as one of the true heroes of the battle. Joshua Chamberlain was a professor at Maine’s Bowdoin College when the war broke out, but he showed a knack for military command that eventually put him in charge of a regiment at the end of the Union line on a hill called Little Round Top. As the extreme left position of the Union forces, Chamberlain and his men had to hold back repeated efforts to flank them by Longstreet’s troops, and then they found themselves in the thick of the fighting again on the last day during Pickett’s Charge. Chamberlain would win the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions at Gettysburg, and he would continue to serve with distinction for the rest of the war. Eventually promoted to the rank of brigadier general, Ulysses Grant chose Chamberlain to command the Union troops at the surrender ceremony. After the war, he would win multiple terms as Maine’s governor as well as eventually becoming president of his old college. (Feeling like a slacker yet?) The book and a great performance by Jeff Daniels in the movie version would make Chamberlain remembered once again. The prose gets a bit flowery at times, but Shaara’s preface notes that he actually toned down the verbose style of the time. There’s also a bit too much repetition on a couple of points like Chamberlain’s horror at himself that he ordered his brother to fill a gap in the line during the fight on Little Round Top without a second thought or Confederate General Armistead’s constant references to his friend Win Hancock as he frets that he’ll have to face his buddy on the battle field. Those are minor gripes about a book that found a new and fresh way to tell a story that every American school kid has heard. Shaara also does a nice job of pointing out the inherent hypocrisy of the Confederates who claim to be fighting for their rights while not mentioning that what they want is the freedom to keep owning slaves. That point gets overlooked a lot when the South gets romanticized in mainstream works of fiction, and it’s refreshing that Shaara called bullshit on it. Random trivia: Joss Whedon’s television show Firefly was partially inspired by his reading of this book. Also posted at Shelf Inflicted.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Sean Gibson

    Visceral. That’s the best word I can use to describe The Killer Angels, both in the sense of instinctive or elemental emotions and in the sense of internal organs and guts. Because both are relevant when you’re talking about a book that captures what I imagine the experience of war to be like in a way that very few other books I’ve ever read has. The big caveat there, of course, is the “I imagine” part—I’ve never been a soldier, have never fired anything other than a BB gun (though, in my callous Visceral. That’s the best word I can use to describe The Killer Angels, both in the sense of instinctive or elemental emotions and in the sense of internal organs and guts. Because both are relevant when you’re talking about a book that captures what I imagine the experience of war to be like in a way that very few other books I’ve ever read has. The big caveat there, of course, is the “I imagine” part—I’ve never been a soldier, have never fired anything other than a BB gun (though, in my callous youth, I did bring to a premature conclusion the life of more than one recalcitrant soda can), and have absolutely no idea what it’s like to kill another human (or have another human try to kill me); Jebus willing, I never will. So, it’s possible that war is nothing like this. But, Shaara’s lean but descriptive prose and shifting POVs offer a perspective that feels so authentic that I found myself occasionally forgetting that this is a novel rather than a stitching together of first-hand narratives; one suspects Mr. Shaara did his homework. There’s a reason this book is a classic of its genre, and it’s simultaneously an enlightening and painful read. The American Civil War is, if not unique in the history of warfare, certainly a particularly unusual conflict, especially when you consider the officers leading the troops on both sides of the fight. Many had served together previously in the United States army—and for a not inconsiderable period of time—which meant that you had colleagues, and in some cases good friends, whose job it was to go out and try to kill each other in the name of the geography into which they happened to have been born, putting aside their own personal feelings about the reasons for the war. (Side note: I have a few colleagues I’d be totally fine pointing the business end of my bayonet at, but it’s unlikely that I would actually be able to eviscerate them if it came to that, though I’d happily pour salt in their coffee.) Shaara is not concerned with trying to explain the reasons for the Civil War, nor in making a case for whether those reasons were good ones or not; his goal is to capture the experience of the fight. He does so masterfully; I felt completely immersed in the (very troubling) experience of preparing to fight, from the oddly relaxed downtime between battles to the gut-liquidating moments before the charge. This is one of those books that will sit with me for a while, and one that reminds me that even when justified—and I have a much higher threshold for justification than most rulers/countries over the course of human history—war is an awful, horrific, terrible thing that indelibly transforms the lives of all those involved, whether directly engaged in the battle, the family members of those combatants, or the civilians whose homes and towns are destroyed in the process. I think I may need a little Dr. Seuss as a palate cleanser before jumping into anything else this heavy… (Thanks to Allie for the buddy read!)

  6. 5 out of 5

    Charity

    I am not really a fan of books about war. I have trouble envisioning the action and the maneuvers of the troops, and I find that I get lost in the details and just don't really care about the characters. Because of this, I didn't have high hopes for The Killer Angels, but it was this month's selection for my book club, and I decided to give it a try. This book was incredible. I did have some trouble keeping track of the characters. I ended up making myself a cheat-sheet with things like, "Longstre I am not really a fan of books about war. I have trouble envisioning the action and the maneuvers of the troops, and I find that I get lost in the details and just don't really care about the characters. Because of this, I didn't have high hopes for The Killer Angels, but it was this month's selection for my book club, and I decided to give it a try. This book was incredible. I did have some trouble keeping track of the characters. I ended up making myself a cheat-sheet with things like, "Longstreet - Confederate general. Lee's second-in-command. Nickname: Pete." Actually, Longstreet I could keep track of. It was Pettigrew and Pender and Sykes and Sedgewick that kept tripping me up. The maps were very helpful as I tried to visualize the action, but they were less helpful when I couldn't remember which names were Union and which were Confederate. This is a novel, so it's a fictionalized account of the Battle of Gettysburg, but Shaara clearly did his research. Written from the shifting perspective of the main players in the battle and drawn from the personal correspondence of these men as well as the historic record and Shaara's own embellishments and best guesses, this book explains the nuances of the battle and of the war more clearly than I've read before. I've been taught the Civil War from the perspective that there was a clear side to root for. I've known for a long while that the reality was murkier than this, but Shaara helped make this murkiness more apparent to me (or perhaps I'm just now of an age where I can embrace murkiness better than I could in high school and college). There is a distinction here between the Cause and the people doing the fighting. I don't think that's a distinction I've often seen. Shaara puts the reader in Gettysburg, not only in the location but in the minds of the people who were there. All of the things people say about the Civil War---the idea of brothers fighting against brothers, the internal conflict and sense of near heresy of killing one's own countrymen, the ambivalence of Northerners to the people the slaves were even as they disagreed with the institution of slavery---Shaara illustrates clearly here. The book is peppered with lyrical, powerful passages, but two stand out for me as particularly moving. One is a speech Chamberlain gives to a group of would-be deserters handed over as prisoners to his brigade to try and convince a few of them to fight rather than just ride out the battle as prisoners. "This is a different kind of army," Chamberlain explains. "If you look at history you'll see men fight for pay, or women, or some other kind of loot. They fight for land, or because a king makes them, or just because they like killing. But we're here for something new. I don't...this hasn't happened in the history of the world. We're an army going out to set other men free." The other passage that really struck me was when Longstreet and Hood were saying goodbye to one another before a fight. Longstreet puts out his hand for Hood to shake. "Hood took the hand, held it for a moment. Sometimes you touched a man like this and it was the last time, and the next time you saw him he was cold and white and bloodless, and the warmth was gone forever." I just found the way Shaara uses language to be powerful, poignant, but not overdone at all. He has a light touch which lets the scenes shine through. The writing was easy to read, the story rather less so. I think I can blame this book at least in part for the gloomy mood I've been in the past few days. It's an incredible book about an infamously dark battle in our country's darkest war.

  7. 5 out of 5

    ΞιsNιnΞ RΞχ~ΚαrnιFΞχ

    Perhaps the Greatest War Novel Ever Written (Too much? American war novel, then.) 'The Killer Angels' stands tall as the best novel about the American Civil War ever written... and there have been many. E. L. Doctorow's 'The March', for example, about the military convoy and its swelling ranks of thieves, whores, and freed slaves following General Tecumseh Sherman's trail of destruction, is a great book, but it doesn't manage to convey the scope and complexity of battle with the grace Shaara does. Perhaps the Greatest War Novel Ever Written (Too much? American war novel, then.) 'The Killer Angels' stands tall as the best novel about the American Civil War ever written... and there have been many. E. L. Doctorow's 'The March', for example, about the military convoy and its swelling ranks of thieves, whores, and freed slaves following General Tecumseh Sherman's trail of destruction, is a great book, but it doesn't manage to convey the scope and complexity of battle with the grace Shaara does. The narration hovers above the killing fields of Gettysburg like the recording angel itself, examining without judgement the horrors and triumphs, looking into the hearts and minds of the now legendary officers whose fates were decided there. The interactions between an exhausted Lee, who has decided to take the offensive and move into Northern territory for the first time since the war began, and Longstreet, his pragmatic and most trusted friend and general, are unforgettable. Shaara imagines Longstreet's wavering faith in Lee as a near religious crisis. He lets the reader suffer with Lee at the sickening realization he has made a fatal error, wasting tens of thousands of lives on an obvious tactical mistake... and knowing that now he has finally lost a battle, this one loss will likely cost him the war. Shaara's account of the various decisive military engagements are masterful, in particular Chamberlain's heroic defense of his position on 'Little Round Top', one of the key factors in the Union victory. Michael Shaara won a Pulitzer for 'The Killer Angels', an honor he very much deserved. He was not a prolific writer, however, and his best work would be his last. His son, Jeff Shaara, has continued on the course his father charted, telling the stories behind the other great battles of the civil war, as well as going back in history further to create historical novels about the American Revolution and the Mexican-American war. But it is 'The Killer Angels' that remains the masterpiece, perhaps the best war novel ever written. There are very few books that have managed to convey the heroic grandeur and vast complexity of war, while capturing the sad and curious details, the psychological transformations, the waste and tragic errors. Others come close: Norman Mailer's 'The Naked and the Dead' and James Jones 'The Thin Red Line', for example, both dealing with the Pacific theater of the Second World War. Jones provides a profound understanding of the motivations driving his characters; but Mailer, in his debut novel, became an immediate intellectual powerhouse with a fictionalized account of his WWII observations & experiences, articulating the most complex psychological processes, peeling back layers of delusion & contrived personas, to exposed the petty, ugly, and sadistic roots. He was the 20th Centuries keenest literary observer of human behavior & motivations, and this laser-scalpel of an intellect made 'The Naked & The Dead' an instant classic in the canon of war novels & a powerful work of literature that has retained its shocking vitality over the last 70-years. And then there's 'Count Belisarius', by Robert Graves. It's a lesser-known novel by the greatest writer of Historical Fiction in the English language, following his masterwork, 'I, Claudius'. It a heart-breaking tale of a noble General fighting for the Eastern Roman Empire after Rome itself had fallen to the Germanic tribes; his incorruptible sense of duty, loyalty & competence, is ruthlessly exploited by a weak, petty, jealous & cruel Emperor Justinian. He is sent out against impossible armies who vastly outnumber him, and through sheer strategic genius, brings his Emperor a glorious victory. Justinian steals all the glory, and sends him out on even deadlier missions, greedily stealing all the glory again & again... so jealous of Belisarius, he sends him on suicide missions, which he somehow survives. And for all the victories & sacrifice & loyalty, he is not rewarded, but punished. 'Goodbye To All That' was Graves fascinating autobiography, much of it devoted to his life-shaping experiences during WWI... and it makes as ideal companion to Erich Maria Remarque's 'All Quiet On The Western Front', a novel about the First World War from the German POV; both books are included in the 4-volume WWI-Classics pack picture-linked above. And lastly, 'Tree of Smoke': Denis Johnson's modern masterpiece set amid the chaos of Southeast Asia before and during the Vietnam war. For a clear-eyed but unflinching tale of the various costs that war demands, however, 'The Killer Angels' stands alone. More Art-book Reviews More Comic-book Reviews More Novel Reviews

  8. 5 out of 5

    Ron

    I was reminded about this book while listening to a podcast the other day. The guy mentioned The Killer Angels and I immediately thought about how much I had liked it and about my stepdad. He was the reason I read it, some twenty+ years ago now, this book that I am sure I would never have picked up on my own. He handed it to me one day said something like, “This was really good. You should read it.” I remember thinking at least two things in that moment: A book about war? I don’t read that stuff I was reminded about this book while listening to a podcast the other day. The guy mentioned The Killer Angels and I immediately thought about how much I had liked it and about my stepdad. He was the reason I read it, some twenty+ years ago now, this book that I am sure I would never have picked up on my own. He handed it to me one day said something like, “This was really good. You should read it.” I remember thinking at least two things in that moment: A book about war? I don’t read that stuff. But the second thing I thought about was my dad loving a book. That’s because I had so rarely seen him reading one. So okay I thought, I will try it. Wow, is all I really need to say at this point. Yes it’s about war, specifically the Battle of Gettysburg, but it’s far more personal than that. Sharra created something amazing here. His words caused me to think about the individual man. Not what I had expected at all. Now when I think about The Killer Angels, I think about my stepdad, and I am grateful.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Richard

    This is one of those books which changes the way people see a subject. It is a fictional account of the Civil War Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, putting words into the mouths of some of the best-remembered participants, most notably Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and James Longstreet, and Union Generals Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and John Buford (actually Chamberlain was a colonel at this battle, but eventually attained the rank of Major General before the end of the war). The book violates This is one of those books which changes the way people see a subject. It is a fictional account of the Civil War Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, putting words into the mouths of some of the best-remembered participants, most notably Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and James Longstreet, and Union Generals Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and John Buford (actually Chamberlain was a colonel at this battle, but eventually attained the rank of Major General before the end of the war). The book violates a common perception of historical writing which says readers of war novels are more interested in the common soldiers' experiences rather than the generals who live in the lofty atmosphere of rear headquarters, moving armies around like chess pieces. Michael Shaara's book works by letting the reader into the private world of soldiers who are as torn by the emotions of decision-making in the pandemonium of battle and fear of the unknown as those in all war novels, only in this book they mostly happen to be the soldiers who are commanding all of the other soldiers in an engagement that has taken on a mythology which places it in the forefront of our nation's struggles and enshrines the very ground it was fought on as sacred as any piece of real estate in the United States. The author was writing science fiction and straight fiction short stories for many major publications for years, supplementing his income teaching English Lit. at Florida State University, before he published his first novel, "The Broken Place" in 1968. It was a very good book but not commercially successful. His second novel developed from a family visit to the Gettysburg Battlefield. From my own experience, I can relate to those who see that place for the first time, and, if they have a sense of historical perspective toward the war which defined this nation, or are at least receptive to learning about the country's great struggle, they can feel a sense of awe just standing on that ground (and no doubt feel just as moved at other places that defined the national conscience). This emotion definitely was felt by Shaara, who described his first visit to Gettysburg as an extraordinary experience. Shaara's desire to put his feelings on paper led to his decision to write a novel with a story told through the eyes of the leading characters. Burning the candle at both ends, teaching and writing, and in his own recollection consuming large quantities of cigarettes and coffee, he finished the novel seven years later. His health was already poor, having suffered a major heart attack at age 36, in 1965. He finally found a publisher, and the book found a small audience after its release. Winning the Pulitzer in 1975 helped, but the novel's primary audience continued to be history buffs and professional military scholars; it has been required reading at leading academies, including the U.S. Army War College and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, among others. The edition I read was loaned to me by a retired Army officer who had studied at the War College. The author passed away from a fatal heart attack in May, 1988, still semi-famous. He had written another novel, "For the Name of the Game", eventually released as a movie in 1999 starring Kevin Costner. "The Killer Angels" finally had its day in 1993, with the release of the film "Gettysburg." The interest in this Ted Turner-backed film generated sales in the book, which went to Number One on the New York Times bestseller list. "The Killer Angels" has been followed by two related novels from the author's son, Jeffrey Sharra. "Gods and Generals" is a prequel to the events of the Civil War, while "The Last Full Measure" begins where "The Killer Angels" leaves off. The action in both novels occurs through the experiences of the same characters used by Michael Shaara in "The Killer Angels." Though a novel, this book is a favorite among Civil War readers, on a level with the best non-fictional works. One reason is its underlying faithfulness to historically accurate character portrayals, and accountings of the major turning points in the Gettysburg battle. It is no exaggeration to claim that the experience of immersing oneself into this book will give any curious reader inspiration to want to know more about the Civil War. For those who think the reading of history must always be boring, this book will dissuade those notions. Civil War writing just doesn't get any better.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Darwin8u

    “There's nothing so much like a god on earth as a General on a battlefield.” ― Michael Shaara, The Killer Angels One of my favorite historical fiction novels of ALL TIME. I read this with my 13 year-old son and 12 year-old daughter and it was amazing. My kids loved it just as much as I did. It was tight, character-driven, and dramatic. Imagine my surprise when my kids are discussing the virtues of Team Chamberlain (smart, honorable, thoughtful, a natural leader) VS Team Longstreet (Brilliant, ah “There's nothing so much like a god on earth as a General on a battlefield.” ― Michael Shaara, The Killer Angels One of my favorite historical fiction novels of ALL TIME. I read this with my 13 year-old son and 12 year-old daughter and it was amazing. My kids loved it just as much as I did. It was tight, character-driven, and dramatic. Imagine my surprise when my kids are discussing the virtues of Team Chamberlain (smart, honorable, thoughtful, a natural leader) VS Team Longstreet (Brilliant, ahead of his time, brooding, quiet). The Civil War is one of those historical periods that is a bit anachronistic to me. It has elements of romance, chivalry, honor, gentility mixed in with the horrible stench of a modern, brutal war. There are characters like Lee, Chamberlain, Pickett, Stuart, etc., who seem to belong in some Arthurian myth/melodrama next to Longstreet and Hancock who could easily have been cast in some post-apocalyptic Battle Royale. Add to this, the fact that these were real men, with real failings, fighting real friends and the book almost seems to narrate itself. Anyway, this is a top-shelf war novel -- it educates, it entertains (as much as a war novel can be called entertainment) and it is beautiful. There were some paragraphs I wanted Terence Malick to film.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    I was assigned this many years ago in high school & still have my 1975 paperback edition, so I was surprised by Jeff Shaara's introduction talking about how unknown this book was, especially when it won a Pulitzer Prize. I would guess he knows what he's talking about, but I've known many people to read it over the years. Of course, I lived only a couple of hours from Gettysburg which languished for years. Only recently has a real concerted effort been made to upgrade the facilities there led I was assigned this many years ago in high school & still have my 1975 paperback edition, so I was surprised by Jeff Shaara's introduction talking about how unknown this book was, especially when it won a Pulitzer Prize. I would guess he knows what he's talking about, but I've known many people to read it over the years. Of course, I lived only a couple of hours from Gettysburg which languished for years. Only recently has a real concerted effort been made to upgrade the facilities there led in a large part by Bob Kinsley. I certainly don't believe Jeff's claim that his father was the first author to publish historical fiction of this sort. Way before this book, I was reading Harold Lamb's books, Scott's "Grandfather's Tales" & others like it. Michael, in his foreword, even talks about the similarity of his story to Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage. I hate it when people make claims like this. OK, you're proud of your father & his work wasn't as well recognized as it deserved during his life, but don't distort the facts too much Jeff. It doesn't do the book any favors. Shaara's descriptions are great & he really gets inside the heads of the people, sometimes too much. My biggest disappointment & the reason this isn't getting 5 stars is that Shaara crossed the line too often into fantasy. He went on & on about feelings that may have been real, but were certainly over done - just too much for a decent history. The book could have been shortened quite a bit & still retained the same power & flavor. I had to take a break in the middle because it got to me. I'm glad I continued, though. The main themes of the battle are personalized. - The leaders of the armies knew each other well enough to not only like & respect their opponents, but out guess each other & mourn their deaths & defeats even while striving to bring them about. - Communications SUCKED & this caused the South's greatest strength, their independence, morale, & go-for-broke attitude, to bite them in the ass. Jeb Stuart was completely out of position blinding Lee & Hill drawing them into the battle against orders being the two most obvious examples at the start of the fight. - The weariness of all concerned at this critical juncture 2 years into the war. Knowing the war dragged on for almost 2 more years afterward makes this even worse, especially given how the battle ended & the casualties they took. - The heat was awful. I'm listening to this in July, the same month as the battle was fought, sweating my butt off doing light chores. It's hard to imagine men fighting in this weather amidst thick smoke, dust, dirt, & disease. The reading is great & makes the story really come alive. The only problem was that I didn't have a very good map of the area in my head, so I went looking for one. This map & explanation of day 1 & 2 is pretty good, but it requires you to sign up to go beyond that. I didn't. http://education-portal.com/academy/l... I looked a bit further & found this wonderful overview of the entire battle. http://www.civilwar.org/battlefields/... They call it an animated map, but it has film clips & period pictures as well. The map part is perhaps the best for figuring out where the main players were & how the battle developed. After referring to it once, I didn't need to again. If you get a few of the main places in your head, the story is easy enough to follow. The Wikipedia entry is very good for an overview, too. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_o... The afterword sketches out what happened to the main players that survived the battle. Many of their endings were tragic, but there were a few happy ones. All in all, excellent & it's a book I highly recommend.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Ted

    I've read the book twice, it is a very moving historical novel. The Killer Angels relates the thoughts and motivations of the leaders in the battle of Gettysburg, as well as details of the crucial actions across the battlefield over three days, as experienced by the leaders and soldiers. Of particular interest are the depictions of the Confederate leaders (Lee, Longstreet, Pickett, et al). Longstreet is presented as arguing against the decision by Lee to take the battle to the Union forces, who h I've read the book twice, it is a very moving historical novel. The Killer Angels relates the thoughts and motivations of the leaders in the battle of Gettysburg, as well as details of the crucial actions across the battlefield over three days, as experienced by the leaders and soldiers. Of particular interest are the depictions of the Confederate leaders (Lee, Longstreet, Pickett, et al). Longstreet is presented as arguing against the decision by Lee to take the battle to the Union forces, who had the defensive advantage of the high terrain in the battle. In Longstreet's view, Lee is assuming the role in the battle which he always strove previously to force the Union into taking, that of attacking a good defensive position. Lee appears to realize at some level that Longstreet is right, but judges that there is a good chance of success, and that success here can turn the war decisively in the South's favor. Shaara's narration of the battle's details make it clear that during the first two days many parts of the action could have gone either way, that it was a very close thing. But Pickett's charge on the third day, although it seemed to get very close to succeeding, in reality had little chance of success. I can see that some readers could feel that there is just too much psychological speculation in the book. Certainly the thoughts presented are speculative, as they are in any historical fiction. The words could be less so, if they are at times based on written recollections. But the overall feeling is of such intense realism that it is easy to forget that the book is, after all, a novel, not a work of historical scholarship, though Shaara no doubt engaged in much historical research in writing the work. For example, his portrayal of Longstreet as a reluctant participant in Lee's overall strategy at Gettysburg is almost certainly accurate, since Longstreet was viewed for decades after the war by Southerners as almost a traitor, particularly by the "Lost Cause" partisans, due to this very well-known reluctance at Gettysburg. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Lo..., http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Lo... and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lost_Cau...) To this reader, the novel brings the battle to life in a way that no other book I have read on Gettysburg has done.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    If I hadn't been sitting in a puddle of my own tears from so much personal tragedy, I'd probably have given this five stars instead of four. Another time, I could have simply focused on the excellent writing and superior character development. I was a bit too weighted down to give this historical novel the completely objective read I felt it deserved. I never knew that being inside of Robert E. Lee's head would make me feel so sad, so damn sad. I never knew I could alternate sides so quickly in m If I hadn't been sitting in a puddle of my own tears from so much personal tragedy, I'd probably have given this five stars instead of four. Another time, I could have simply focused on the excellent writing and superior character development. I was a bit too weighted down to give this historical novel the completely objective read I felt it deserved. I never knew that being inside of Robert E. Lee's head would make me feel so sad, so damn sad. I never knew I could alternate sides so quickly in my compassion: one moment cheering for the North to take it, the next minute, unexpectedly hoping the South would prevail. During this read, I fell, simultaneously, in love with the North's Joshua Chamberlain and the South's James Longstreet, and realized, for the first time, how profoundly the Civil War damaged our nation's landmarks and natural beauty. I believe this book may have most accurately depicted the total and complete division, not only between families and soldiers, but between the leaders, who had forged tight bonds in school and in previous battles, where they had fought on the same side. This is a truly humanistic view of our civil war, and Shaara did not drop the ball in re-telling it.

  14. 5 out of 5

    A.B. Gayle

    Normally when I hear a book won a major literary prize I run screaming in the opposite direction, but the topic has always interested me and the way the author dealt with the subject had me turning the pages like a novel. Being an Aussie, the American Civil war was just something I was taught at school, it had no real relevance. Undoubtedly, US citizens have a totally different perspective from their much closer connection. So I understand if for some of you the book is overload of stuff you've b Normally when I hear a book won a major literary prize I run screaming in the opposite direction, but the topic has always interested me and the way the author dealt with the subject had me turning the pages like a novel. Being an Aussie, the American Civil war was just something I was taught at school, it had no real relevance. Undoubtedly, US citizens have a totally different perspective from their much closer connection. So I understand if for some of you the book is overload of stuff you've been exposed to all your life. Killer Angels by Michael Shaara is not a new book, in fact it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction back in 1975. It's based on the Battle of Gettysburg and looks at the action through the eyes of the significant characters of the different stages of the short but bloody battle. In presenting history like this, the reader is very dependant on trusting the author to have done his research and is not cheating by switching a character's motivations or aims to fit the "story". In fact at times, I was imagining how Steven Spielberg would have filmed this. Would he have "killed off" certain characters just to make the drama more poignant? It did read more like a novel. I couldn't wait to find out whether both Chamberlain brothers survived or whether Lee would ever admit his tactics were wrong. If we can make the assumption that the author just "gives us the facts Ma'am", then after reading "Killer Angels" you definitely get a better insight not only into why one side lost and one side won, or why so many men were killed in senseless attacks, but it also tells you something about the stubbornness, courage and faith men can demonstrate. To me the whole scenario in which the battle was fought seemed more like two macho guys arm wrestling in a pub to see who would take the pretty girl home. But maybe that's the whole point. The battle was senseless in some ways. This wasn't for control of a strategic position or to capture a town and its produce, this was a war of attrition to see who could continue to field more men into the fight as carnage whittled away the numbers. Almost as if there was an underlying vote involved, but in this case, the winner was the one who could put the most bodies on the line. The characters of the men involved shine through and in an epilogue we find out what happened to them afterwards. Having got to know them from the excellent way Michael Shaara got inside their heads to explain why they acted the way they did, we can extrapolate out how the rest of their life would have gone from the few facts included. If more history was told like this, we'd all be clamoring to learn it at school.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Ben Loory

    easily one of the best books i've ever read in my life. just completely floored me. i don't give a shit about history, war, america, the military... i don't care about any of this stuff. like, at all. but this book was amazing. i just cried the whole way through. for every single character. even the ones who lived. especially the ones who lived. this was like a Bleak House, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, The Book of Ebenezer Le Page type situation. i forget books can be this good.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    When I was young my parents took us to Gettysburg a few times and for some reason, I really fell in love with the landscape and the reverberating sense of history. Just walking in the fields and woods where these battles took place is a rather striking feeling and whenever I read this book, I am immediately and fully reminded of that feeling. Obviously, you might enjoy this book more if you are a battlefield/history nerd, but even just the human element is quite gripping, especially when you cons When I was young my parents took us to Gettysburg a few times and for some reason, I really fell in love with the landscape and the reverberating sense of history. Just walking in the fields and woods where these battles took place is a rather striking feeling and whenever I read this book, I am immediately and fully reminded of that feeling. Obviously, you might enjoy this book more if you are a battlefield/history nerd, but even just the human element is quite gripping, especially when you consider how carefully Shaara researched the people and events of this place and time. Each day of the battle is brought to full life with detailed accounts of the army's movements and how different soldiers played key roles in each turn of events. It's gripping because it's not just a point-by-point account but rather it is woven into one cohesive tale showing the passions of soldiers on both sides. A definite must-read for any civil war buff.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Mmars

    What a magnificent book. Thanks to GR friend T for the review that inspired me to read it. Though the battle scenes are stellar, it is the way Shaara touches everything else that makes this book special. Here is one brief passage. "Just before dawn Buford rode down the line himself, waking them up, all the boyish faces. Then he climbed the ladder into the white cupola and sat listening to the rain, watching the light come. The air was cool and wet and delicious to breathe: a slow, fine, soaking What a magnificent book. Thanks to GR friend T for the review that inspired me to read it. Though the battle scenes are stellar, it is the way Shaara touches everything else that makes this book special. Here is one brief passage. "Just before dawn Buford rode down the line himself, waking them up, all the boyish faces. Then he climbed the ladder into the white cupola and sat listening to the rain, watching the light come. The air was cool and wet and delicious to breathe: a slow, fine, soaking rain, a farmer's rain, gentle on the roof. The light came slowly: there were great trees out in the mist. Then the guns began." See what all he has done here? This is poetry. The "boyish" faces, the "white" cupola, the dawning, the gentle rain. The purity and innocence before battle. The commanding officer climbs the ladder and sits listening and watching. Buford breathes it all in, "slow", "slowly", knowing it cannnot last. There are no farmers in that field, nor is there a safe roof under which to hide. Only an empty field, outside a small town in Pennsylvania, July 1, 1863. And then, too soon....."the guns began." Each chapter presents the viewpoint of a Confederate or Union commanding officer which humanizes the participants, but more importantly, creates the stark contrast of war's inevitable dehumanization. These viewpoints also present the tactics of warfare, and the process of decision making that are universal to all wars. Which has changed of course. No longer (hopefully never again) do waves and waves of men charge and fall, charge and fall and there are forms of technology that enable decision making. But the thought processes, feelings, and injury and death - the humanization and dehumanization, that is what I take from this book. More Kudos: Maps Character profiles before/after story Clarity of battle scenes (I generally get lost in the logistics)

  18. 5 out of 5

    Mackey

    An extremely well researched albeit fictional account of one the most bloody and deadly battles in American history. Its lessons are relevant and far reaching even today.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Horace Derwent

    tuck the 1987 edition under the quilt and let it sleep then reread this edition by now... |=_=|

  20. 4 out of 5

    Quirkyreader

    I wanted to give this book five stars but, it didn’t happen. Possible spoilers...... To me the end seemed hurried and muddled. The descriptive writing that the story started out with changed, and just became a rush to the end. I kept rereading parts to make sure I didn’t miss anything, but that didn’t help either. I even missed the climax of the story because of the muddled writing. I would have missed out on more if I had not studied about this battle before. Shaara did his best to make this sto I wanted to give this book five stars but, it didn’t happen. Possible spoilers...... To me the end seemed hurried and muddled. The descriptive writing that the story started out with changed, and just became a rush to the end. I kept rereading parts to make sure I didn’t miss anything, but that didn’t help either. I even missed the climax of the story because of the muddled writing. I would have missed out on more if I had not studied about this battle before. Shaara did his best to make this story and interesting read and it even won a Pulitzer Prize, but it could have been even better.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Lynn

    I wanted to really like this book in its entirety, but I got bogged down in the specific tactics of the battle of Gettysburg. I tried to study the maps and think about the positions of the various divisions....but ultimately realized that effort was detracting from what was really important to me: the motivations for the Civil War, the differences between the Southerners and Northerners, the perceptions each had of the other side, the role belief in God played, the human factor in the winning/lo I wanted to really like this book in its entirety, but I got bogged down in the specific tactics of the battle of Gettysburg. I tried to study the maps and think about the positions of the various divisions....but ultimately realized that effort was detracting from what was really important to me: the motivations for the Civil War, the differences between the Southerners and Northerners, the perceptions each had of the other side, the role belief in God played, the human factor in the winning/losing of the battle, the role leadership (good or bad) played in the winning or losing of a battle, the sadness of fighting brothers or friends. The Killer Angels was a very insightful, inspiring way to learn about the Civil War. I feel very blessed that there were men of strong convictions who fought horrific battles, who suffered terrible injuries and losses, who ended up keeping this country together. In fact, between reading this book and Founding Brothers: the Revolutionary Generation, I feel I have a much better understanding of the fragility of our early country and of the heroism of our founders and the men who fought valiantly to create and preserve a new type of government.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly

    Why they fought, how they fought, how they looked like, what happened afterwards, what happened before the battle, why Robert E. Lee was so popular (despite the mistakes he made here), why Abraham Lincoln had to go there after and make his Four Scores and Seven Years Ago speech (one of the most hated then during college because some professors of ours made some of us memorize this as an assignment without teaching us the circumstances behind the speech)--all these are not made too clear in this Why they fought, how they fought, how they looked like, what happened afterwards, what happened before the battle, why Robert E. Lee was so popular (despite the mistakes he made here), why Abraham Lincoln had to go there after and make his Four Scores and Seven Years Ago speech (one of the most hated then during college because some professors of ours made some of us memorize this as an assignment without teaching us the circumstances behind the speech)--all these are not made too clear in this historical novel which has a very high average rating here with 36,527 ratings. Informative, I say, but not memorable.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Ted

    Before the Battle Moved to my Writing: https://www.goodreads.com/story/show/... The Battle of Gettysburg; The Killer Angels The book is written in the voice of an all-knowing 3rd person narrator. There’s quite a bit of dialogue in the book, obviously mostly made up. Each chapter has a title naming one of the commanders involved in the battle. Within that chapter the battle is described referring to the commander’s role at a particular time and place. There are considerable imaginary thoughts of Before the Battle Moved to my Writing: https://www.goodreads.com/story/show/... The Battle of Gettysburg; The Killer Angels The book is written in the voice of an all-knowing 3rd person narrator. There’s quite a bit of dialogue in the book, obviously mostly made up. Each chapter has a title naming one of the commanders involved in the battle. Within that chapter the battle is described referring to the commander’s role at a particular time and place. There are considerable imaginary thoughts of the commanders interwoven into the narrative, many of which are very moving. The book starts with an introductory section called Monday, June 29, 1863. Only the first of the four chapters of this section takes place on June 29; the others take place mostly on the following day, June 30: 1. The Spy (who brings information of the movements of Union forces to General Lee) 2. Chamberlain (Colonel Joshua Chamberlain, commanding the 20th Maine Volunteer Regiment in the battle) 3. Buford (General John Buford, commander of the Reserve Brigade of regular cavalry, 1st Division, Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac. On June 30 Buford had two cavalry brigades at Gettysburg.) 4. Longstreet (General James Longstreet, commander of the First Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia – the man on whom General Lee leaned most heavily.) I will try to replace this map with one from the book, when I get home. The map of Gettysburg shown by Shaara names nine roads converging at Gettysburg: clockwise from the noon position, Carlisle Road (which is labelled where Newville Road is above); York Pike; Hanover Road; Baltimore Pike; Taneytown Road; Emmitsburg Road (which runs straight through the battlefield); Hagerstown Road (called Fairfield Road above); Cashtown Road (called Chambersburg Pike above); and Mummasburg Road. Before the battle began, commanders on both sides had identified the small town (of about 2500 people) as a key strategic location. Wednesday, July 1, 1863 Overview map of first day of Battle of Gettysburg. (Wiki) July 1. (view spoiler)[The opening day of the battle came about as AP Hill’s Corp approached Gettysburg along the Cashtown Road from the west. John Buford of the Federals had entered the town with cavalry earlier. Buford saw that the crossroads meeting in Gettysburg would make the place an important location; and that two hills near the town, connected to a long ridge running to the south, would be an ideal position from which to defend this location against an attack made by elements of Lee’s army. Throughout the morning Buford’s dismounted cavalry defended a ridge to the west of the town. Around midday they were joined by infantry reinforcements that he had desperately called for. As more Confederates arrived, they were able to push the Union soldiers back through the town. More Northern elements were also arriving, and these forces consolidated a defensive position on the two hills, Cemetery Hill (on which was located the local cemetery) and Culp’s Hill. An attack was made by some of the Southern forces on these positions late in the evening, but it was unsuccessful. Day’s casualties (killed, wounded, captured, missing): One estimate is 9,000 Union, 6,000 Confederate. These are similar to the tolls for the second day, even though a much smaller part of each army was engaged on July 1. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_...) (hide spoiler)] The chapters covering the first day of the battle are: 1. Lee (General Robert E. Lee, commander of the Army of Northern Virginia) 2. Buford 3. Lee 4. Chamberlain 5. Longstreet 6. Lee 7. Buford From chapter 4.Pa. When he thought of the old man he could see him suddenly in a field in the spring, trying to move a gray boulder. He always knew instinctively the ones you could move, even though the greater part was buried in the earth … Once Chamberlain had memorized a speech from Shakespeare, and Chamberlain remembered it still: “What a piece of work is man … in action how like an angel.” And the old man, grinning, had scratched his head and then said stiffly, “Well, boy, if he’s an angel, he’s sure a murderin’ angel.” And Chamberlain had gone on to school to make an oration on the subject: Man, the Killer Angel. Thursday, July 2, 1863 Overview map of second day of Battle of Gettysburg - July 2 1863. July 2. (view spoiler)[ The second day of the battle didn’t get started until fairly late in the afternoon. Meade had deployed the Union troops that had arrived through the night of July 1-2, and early in the morning of July 2, on the two hills where the defensive position had been established on July 1, and along Cemetery Ridge to the south. Major General Daniel Sickles, commanded of the III Corps, had been commanded to station his men on the left flank of the ridge. However, he, Sickles, whose rank was due to a political appointment rather than military training, who had been in numerous public scandals, including the killing of his wife’s lover, had taken his men off the ridge to a lower elevation, exposing the entire left end of the Union forces to be being outflanked by Longstreet’s attack at this point of the battle. When it became known where Sickles men were, there was a desperate attempt to reinforce this flank on the hill known as Little Round Top. And at the far left flank of this position, somewhat below the top of the hill, in wooded, boulder-strewn ground, Joshua Chamberlain’s 20 Maine regiment found its path to glory: withstanding wave after wave of attacks up the hill by Alabama brigades, and seeing their opponents preparing for another assault, finally, almost out of ammunition, Chamberlain lead a fixed bayonet countercharge downhill. The southerners, decimated by casualties, worn out, desperate with thirst (many had come into the battle with empty canteens, after marching and countermarching for several hours before the late afternoon attack) broke, threw down their arms, and were captured by the Maine boys, many of whom had empty guns. The Union flank held. Though not without a valiant charge by (because I’m writing this review in Minnesota)…(view spoiler)[ the small 1st Minnesota Volunteer Regiment, which was ordered to attack a position where they would be outnumbered by 5 to 1, to buy “minutes of time with human lives.“ The regiment fully and instantly obeyed the order, and suffered 82% casualties. In later years the commanding general who had ordered the attack, Winfield Scott Hancock, as well as President Calvin Coolidge, were “unrestrained” in their praise of the 1st Minnesota. Coolidge commented that “those eight companies of the First Minnesota are entitled to rank as the saviors of their country.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1st_Min... (hide spoiler)] Casualties: One estimate is 10,000 Union, 6,800 Confederate, this toll occurring in about six hours if fighting. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_...) (hide spoiler)] The chapters for the second day are: 1. Fremantle (Arthur James Lyon Fremantle, a British officer who spent from April 2 through July 16 of 1863 touring and observing the Confederacy. He was with Lee’s command during the Battle of Gettysburg.) 2. Chamberlain 3. Longstreet 4. Chamberlain 5. Longstreet 6. Lee From chapter 2. Early in the day, a Negro, an escaped servant from the Reb army, is found by the regiment. Shot by a woman in Gettysburg. A surgeon is called to attend to him. … the red eyes had gone wild with new fear, rolling horselike, terrified. Chamberlain felt a slow deep flow of sympathy. To be alien and alone, among white lords and glittering machines, uprooted by brute force and the threat of death from the familiar earth … to be shipped in black stinking darkness across an ocean he had not dreamed existed … What could the black man know of what was happening? … What could this man know of borders and states’ rights and the Constitution and Dred Scott? What did he know of the war? And yet he was truly what it was all about. It simplified to that. Seen in the flesh, the cause of the war was brutally clear. Friday, July 3, 1863 Overview map of third day of Battle of Gettysburg - July 3 1863. (Wiki) July 3 action. (view spoiler)[ From Lee’s point of view, each of the first two days of the battle had come so close, so close. He felt that had the battles gone the way he had planned, he would have already won, already scattered the Army of the Potomac in flight back toward Washington. Now on the third day, he still had some fresh troops, and believed that with a feint at the Federals’ right flank on the two hills behind Gettysburg, and a massive bombardment of the center of the position on Cemetery Ridge, he could break through the center and still win. Longstreet believed otherwise, but his Corp was ordered to lead the crucial attack, called forever after Pickett’s Charge. 12,500 southern infantry, after the largest cannon barrage of the war (said to have been heard in Pittsburg) began marching across almost a mile of open, undulating ground between Seminary Ridge and Cemetery Ridge, crossing Emmitsburg Road at the low point, then on up to the Federal lines. Perhap 300 managed to cross a forward portion of the stone wall behind which the defenders poured musket and cannon fire into the attackers, and engaged to brutal hand-to-hand fighting. This place, and this last portion of the three-day battle, later became known as the High Tide of the Confederacy. Casualties: One estimate is 4,000 Union, 10,200 Confederate. (Using total casualties as given in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_..., and subtracting figures given above for the first two days.) (hide spoiler)] The chapters for the third day are: 1. Chamberlain 2. Longstreet 3. Chamberlain 4. Armistead (Brigadier General Lewis A. Armistead, commander of a brigade in Pickett’s Division of the I Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia) 5. Longstreet 6. Chamberlain from chapter 4. This chapter tells the story of Pickett’s Charge from Armistead’s view. It is almost unbearable to read – not because of the casualties taken by the South, but because of two personal stories woven into Armistead’s experience of the charge: one of General Richard B. Garnett, who had been unjustly court-marshalled by Stonewall Jackson in the previous year, and because of the aborted trial had never been able to clear his name (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard... the other of the personal relation between Armistead and General Hancock. Garnett, because of a recent injury, was unable to walk; thus rode into the battle against orders, in order to regain his honor, though thus presenting himself as a target. Armistead, Hancock, and their wives had been close friends before the war. Both these stories are presented at more than one point in the book, building additional information up. Hancock and Armistead had been among a group of Army officers, including wives, who had had a farewell get-together prior to breaking into the two groups going to the Federal and Confederate armies. Very poignant. At this time Armistead had pledged to Hancock that he would never go into battle against him. Now he is breaking his word and leading his brigade against Hancock on the third day. Shaara’s writing of these event is heart-breaking. It is also too drawn out to quote anything meaningful. Instead here’s a bit of the Charge as Armistead sees it.Kemper’s men had come apart, drifting left. There was a mass ahead, but it did not seem to be moving. Up there the wall was a terrible thing, flame and smoke. He looked left, saw Pettigrew’s men still moving, but the neat lines were gone, growing confusion, the flags dropping, no Rebel yell now, no more screams of victory, the men falling here and there like trees before an invisible axe, you could see them go one by one and in clumps, suddenly, in among the columns of smoke from the shell … There was a horse coming down the ridge: great black horse with blood all over the chest, blood streaming through bubbly holes, blood on the saddle, dying eyes, smoke-gray at the muzzle: Garnett’s horse. After the Battle There was but one civilian casualty among the Gettysburg residents. But it was mainly the town residents who were left with of job of cleaning up the hundreds of dead horses, thousands of dead bodies; and caring, as best they could, for the hundreds of soldiers wounded too badly to have been taken away by the armies (or unnoticed as being among the living till the cleanup). On July 4th Grant’s army entered Vicksburg. The surrender of Vicksburg left the entire Mississippi River in the Federal’s control, and along with the defeat of Lee’s forces as Gettysburg, sealed the fate of the Confederacy. On November 19th the Gettysburg Soldiers' National Cemetery was dedicated. President Lincoln had only been invited as an afterthought – the main oration was given by Edward Everett, one of the most famous speakers of the time. Everett’s 13,607 word address was given over a period of two hours. After a hymn, Lincoln delivered his 272 word address, slowly spoken. This was ignored by many of the reports of the event (or simply mentioned without comment). However, Everett himself wrote to Lincoln on the following day, "I should be glad, if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes."

  24. 4 out of 5

    Ann Michael

    Actually, I really like this book--I just don't think "It's Amazing" even though I have read it three times. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants a good read in historical fiction, who is interested in US history and, especially, the Civil War. Shaara does a good job of sketching the tenor of the times, the sentimentality and the conflicted feelings of the men. It's a terrific book for high school students who might otherwise find the history aspect less than compelling. My Civil War buff fr Actually, I really like this book--I just don't think "It's Amazing" even though I have read it three times. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants a good read in historical fiction, who is interested in US history and, especially, the Civil War. Shaara does a good job of sketching the tenor of the times, the sentimentality and the conflicted feelings of the men. It's a terrific book for high school students who might otherwise find the history aspect less than compelling. My Civil War buff friends criticize this book for several inaccuracies, but nitpickers & enthusiasts will always do that, and remember--it IS fiction, though well-researched and based on historical events. I think Shaara does a wonderful job with Lee and Chamberlain especially...as characters. That's one reason the movie "Gettysburg" is a good script as drawn from this book--there are actual characters (not historical autobiographies). Why have I read this book so often? Well, I read it once. Then my kids had to read it in high school, so I re-read it then because they wanted to talk about it. Then I read it again for a historical fiction book discussion group. It's held up to all those readings, as a novel at any rate.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Zak

    This novel is a fictionalised account of the Battle of Gettysburg, considered by many as the turning point of the American Civil War. It is a very intimate account told through the eyes of the key participants, often moving and the battle scenes, though infrequent, are very vividly told. I was surprised to learn that many of the military leaders involved actually bore little ill-will towards their counterparts, having fought together side-by-side in other wars and wished fervently in their heart This novel is a fictionalised account of the Battle of Gettysburg, considered by many as the turning point of the American Civil War. It is a very intimate account told through the eyes of the key participants, often moving and the battle scenes, though infrequent, are very vividly told. I was surprised to learn that many of the military leaders involved actually bore little ill-will towards their counterparts, having fought together side-by-side in other wars and wished fervently in their hearts for the war to end. However, as military men their sense of duty prevailed and they were forced to wage death and destruction on their own brethren. The main message is that any kind of war is a devastating, soul-sucking endeavour but the pain is magnified when it's brother against brother, countryman against countryman. This novel won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1975.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Louise

    This year I am re-reading some favorite books to see how they match my memory. I read this one more than 30 years ago when I was living in Gettysburg. Last week, I would have said that this was a story of the officers. It was who they were, how they thought and felt. After the re-read I see an equally powerful theme as the story of how the Confederate Army lost the battle (and the war) due to the chivalrous ideals of its general and a smaller but important theme as the conflicting reasons for fi This year I am re-reading some favorite books to see how they match my memory. I read this one more than 30 years ago when I was living in Gettysburg. Last week, I would have said that this was a story of the officers. It was who they were, how they thought and felt. After the re-read I see an equally powerful theme as the story of how the Confederate Army lost the battle (and the war) due to the chivalrous ideals of its general and a smaller but important theme as the conflicting reasons for fighting. Lee disdained defensive warfare (i.e. digging trenches was unsoldierly). He relied on a Napoleonic offense (as in the poem: the “Charge of the Light Brigade”). He would not use spies (i.e. private contractors) and relied on his commanders to serve as scouts. The reader sees the culmination of this philosophy through the eyes of General Longstreet, who, over three blistering hot days, watches, and cannot stop, the devastation to come. The author shows how some saw the war as an extension of the Revolution. A British southern sympathizer sees the plantation aristocracy as being right at home in England… they would love Queen Victoria, he thinks. Colonel Chamberlain of the Maine Volunteers sees the vast country open for free men, no kings, queens or aristocracy. One of Chamberlain’s soldiers, the Irishman, Kilrain, speculates that if the war is lost there will be three competing countries, north, south and the west with no peace in the future. Tom Chamberlain (a citizen soldier and brother to the colonel) observes that, despite all the “political fast talking” … “if there weren’t slaves there never have been no war”. The description of the battle is stirring: how it looked, felt, and sounded as the two armies faced each other; the futility of General Armistead’s breach of the wall; the litter of spent bodies, body parts and horses and the contemplation of General Longstreet and Colonel Chamberlain before and after it. Ironically, the horror is recounted in beautiful prose. I remembered this book as the best fiction I had read. Since that time, many more books and distance from the Battlefield (which I once saw every day) it is still up there, maybe not the top, but still very high. It is gripping, thought provoking and remains a must read for both Civil War buffs and serious historians. Many years after leaving Gettysburg (and not long ago), I learned that Pickett’s Charge, where two white armies fought over slavery, took place on the land owned by a free Black man. In a town where people debated the number of blue and gray casualties in the peach orchard, discussed the position of the bodies at Devils Den (before they were moved to stage photographs) and other arcane bits of what happened in 1863, this never came up.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Tosh

    freedom…is not just a word The Killer Angels is so beautifully written. I had a perpetual lump in my throat while reading, thinking about the men, the friendships, the mistakes, the loss of life, and the stubbornness of the cause. I could literally feel the tragedy of it all in every sentence. Stuart and his stupid pride. The confusion of orders. General Lee’s refusal to listen to Longstreet. My heart was overflowing with sympathy and frustration for both sides. So much responsibility, so muc freedom…is not just a word The Killer Angels is so beautifully written. I had a perpetual lump in my throat while reading, thinking about the men, the friendships, the mistakes, the loss of life, and the stubbornness of the cause. I could literally feel the tragedy of it all in every sentence. Stuart and his stupid pride. The confusion of orders. General Lee’s refusal to listen to Longstreet. My heart was overflowing with sympathy and frustration for both sides. So much responsibility, so much weight and finality to the decisions. So many lives wasted. Chamberlain was a bright spot within the different perspectives. I had a great deal of respect for his handling of the men of 2nd Maine, his bravery and cool, collected leadership in the face of possible death, and his desire to protect his brother. It's a very moving story. To be a good soldier you must love the army. But to be a good officer you must be willing to order the death of the thing you love. That is…a very hard thing to do. No other profession requires it. That is one reason why there are so very few good officers. Although there are many good men… And yet, if they all die, a man must ask himself, will it have been worth it? - General Lee Maps. Gotta luv’em. There is a map for every significant situation during the three days of battle. Very handy, as there are many battalions and corps position changes. Officers are labeled in regard to their commands and positions on the battlefield. I would have been lost without them. This is not a book I will easy forget, and my eventual trip to Gettysburg will be more enlightened and rewarding having read it.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Sotiris Karaiskos

    The oldest and, in the opinion of the experts, best book of this trilogy, which is the core of the trilogy, as the two others were written by the author's son many years later and rely on it. In my review of the first book, I expressed my admiration for its excellence and for its exquisite description of the war events and of the emotions and personalities of the protagonists, but what I understood by reading the second book is that it is even better, having all the good elements of the first bu The oldest and, in the opinion of the experts, best book of this trilogy, which is the core of the trilogy, as the two others were written by the author's son many years later and rely on it. In my review of the first book, I expressed my admiration for its excellence and for its exquisite description of the war events and of the emotions and personalities of the protagonists, but what I understood by reading the second book is that it is even better, having all the good elements of the first but to the fullest extent. A truly ideal historical novel. The writer takes us to the battle of Gettysburg, perhaps the most decisive battle of the American Civil War and certainly the most bloody. Through the eyes of some of the protagonists we watch the events that led to it and then its evolution and bloody ending. The description of the battle is so compelling that I can not find words to describe it so I must confine myself to mentioning that its effect upon me when I read it can be compared only with very few of my previous reading experiences. It is amazing how he transmit us the tension that prevailed, its impact on the participants, the anxiety of death and the hope of victory. Especially when he comes to the final bloody charge what the author does is incredible. While in the battle description until then he uses conventional methods, creating exciting scenes of action dominated by heroic acts, in this final charge, however, he describes nothing more than an unnecessary massacre, with a crude writing that is also capable of provoking intense emotions. There is nothing heroic about it, no hunt of glory, nothing to show military courage, it is a charge that is doomed and this is what everyone knows, and every death is an unnecessary sacrifice that can only cause immense sorrow. Beyond the battle, however, the book stands out for the excellent outline of the characters of its protagonists. It is great he way he is giving us their thoughts and their feelings as they see the events evolve and the more horrible scenes pass in front of their eyes. Their anxiety about the outcome of the battle, their pain for the losses, the feelings of sadness and joy they experience according to the side they are, their nostalgia for past peaceful moments, when their enemies were friends, all this things the author offers us ideally and so in the end I felt a sense like I lived the battle closely. The writer, however, is not only confined to the emotional field, through the words and thoughts of the protagonists but also of the less important participants he shows us the perceptions for the civil war, the reasons the soldiers believed to be fighting and that is what completes this book and gives it even more depth, enough to be able to say for sure that it is one of the best historical novels I have read. Το παλαιότερο και κατά τη γνώμη των ειδικών καλύτερο βιβλίο αυτής της τριλογίας, που αποτελεί τον πυρήνα της καθώς τα υπόλοιπα δύο γράφτηκαν από τον γιο του συγγραφέα πολλά χρόνια μετά και βασίζονται πάνω του. Στην κριτική μου για το πρώτο βιβλίο εξέφρασα τον θαυμασμό μου για την αρτιότητα του και για την έξοχη περιγραφή που περιέχει για τα πολεμικά γεγονότα αλλά και για τα συναισθήματα και τις προσωπικότητες των πρωταγωνιστών, αυτό, όμως, που κατάλαβα διαβάζοντας το δεύτερο βιβλίο είναι ότι είναι ακόμα καλύτερο, έχοντας όλα τα καλά στοιχεία που υπάρχουν στο πρώτο αλλά στον μέγιστο βαθμό. Ένα πραγματικά ιδανικό ιστορικό μυθιστόρημα. Ο συγγραφέας μας μεταφέρει στη μάχη του Gettysburg, ίσως την πιο καθοριστική μάχη του Αμερικανικού Εμφυλίου Πολέμου και σίγουρα την πιο αιματηρή. Μέσα από τη ματιά μερικών από τους πρωταγωνιστές της παρακολουθούμε τα γεγονότα που οδήγησαν σε αυτήν και στη συνέχεια την εξέλιξή της και την αιματηρή κατάληξη της. Η περιγραφή της μάχης είναι τόσο συνταρακτική που δεν μπορώ να βρω λόγια να την περιγράψω οπότε πρέπει να περιοριστώ στο να αναφέρω ότι η επίδρασή της πάνω μου όταν τη διάβαζα μπορεί να συγκριθεί μόνο με ελάχιστες προηγούμενες αναγνωστικές μου εμπειρίες. Είναι καταπληκτικός ο τρόπος που μας μεταφέρει την ένταση που επικρατούσε, την επίδραση της στους συμμετέχοντες, την αγωνία του θανάτου και την ελπίδα της νίκης. Ειδικά όταν φτάνει στην τελική αιματηρή έφοδο αυτό που κάνει ο συγγραφέας είναι απίστευτο. Ενώ στην περιγραφή της μάχης μέχρι τότε χρησιμοποιεί συμβατικές μεθόδους, δημιουργώντας συναρπαστικές σκηνές δράσης που κυριαρχούνται από ηρωικές πράξεις, σε αυτή την τελική έφοδο, όμως, δεν περιγράφει τίποτα περισσότερο από μία άσκοπη σφαγή, με μία γραφή ωμή που όμως είναι ικανή να προκαλέσει έντονα συναισθήματα. Δεν υπάρχει τίποτα ηρωικό σε αυτήν, κανένα κυνήγι της δόξας, τίποτα που να δείχνει στρατιωτικό θάρρος, είναι μία έφοδος καταδικασμένη και αυτό το ξέρουν όλοι όσοι συμμετέχουν σε αυτή και ο κάθε θάνατος είναι μία άσκοπη θυσία που μπορεί μόνο να προκαλέσει απέραντη θλίψη. Πέρα από την μάχη, όμως, το βιβλίο ξεχωρίζει για την εξαιρετική σκιαγράφηση των χαρακτήρων των πρωταγωνιστών της. Είναι πολύ ωραίος ο τρόπος που μας βάζει στις σκέψεις και τα συναισθήματά τους καθώς βλέπουν τα γεγονότα να εξελίσσονται και τις πιο φρικτές σκηνές να περνάνε μπροστά από τα μάτια τους. Η αγωνία τους για την έκβαση της μάχης, ο πόνος τους για τις απώλειες, τα συναισθήματα λύπης και αγαλλίασης που βιώνουν ανάλογα με την πλευρά που βρίσκονται, η νοσταλγία του για παλαιότερες ειρηνικές στιγμές, όταν οι σημερινοί τους εχθροί ήταν φίλοι, όλα αυτά τα προσφέρει ιδανικά ο συγγραφέας και έτσι στο τέλος μου δημιουργήθηκε μια αίσθηση σαν να είχα ζήσει τη μάχη από κοντά. Ο συγγραφέας, όμως, δεν περιορίζεται μόνο στον συναισθηματικό τομέα, μέσα από τα λόγια και τις σκέψεις των πρωταγωνιστών αλλά και λιγότερο σημαντικών συμμετεχόντων μας δείχνει τις αντιλήψεις που επικρατούσαν για τον εμφύλιο πόλεμο, τους λόγους που οι στρατιώτες θεωρούσαν ότι πολεμούν και αυτό είναι που συμπληρώνει αυτό το βιβλίο και του δίνει του ακόμα μεγαλύτερο βάθος, αρκετό για να μπορέσω να πω με σιγουριά ότι είναι ένα από τα καλύτερα ιστορικά μυθιστορήματα που έχω διαβάσει.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Katy

    A human face and emotional fictionalized account of Gettysburg.

  30. 5 out of 5

    David Carr

    The Cumberland County Library asked me to speak to their book group, part of the North Carolina Humanities Council "Let's Talk About It" series devoted to Civil War fiction. I began by talking about the challenges to the reader in The Killer Angels: keeping the geographies and personalities clear, clarifying and grasping the perspectives of North and South, and the simple disadvantage of knowing how the battle comes out. But I also introduced some special challenges to reading about the Civil Wa The Cumberland County Library asked me to speak to their book group, part of the North Carolina Humanities Council "Let's Talk About It" series devoted to Civil War fiction. I began by talking about the challenges to the reader in The Killer Angels: keeping the geographies and personalities clear, clarifying and grasping the perspectives of North and South, and the simple disadvantage of knowing how the battle comes out. But I also introduced some special challenges to reading about the Civil War itself. Old data say that 620,000 died; new data (9/21/2011) put it at 750,000. Using the first numbers, think of this: 204,000 were deaths in battle; 314,000 were deaths from disease (scurvy, typhus, dysentery, pneumonia, malnutrition): and the Union Army recorded 25,000 deaths in Confederate military prisons. (The Confederacy had poor medical service, so its losses to disease and wounds were worse. Farm boys were especially vulnerable.) Using losses and days, one table provides the deaths-per-day of American wars: For example, in World War II, 416 died each day. In Vietnam, an average of 26 died each day of the war. In the Civil War, 600 people died each day. At the Battle of Gettysburg, the topic of this novel, the 26th Regiment of North Carolina lost 714 of 800 men, 584 on the first day of fighting. The 24th Michigan Regiment lost 362 of 496 men. The 1st Minnesota Regiment lost 82 percent; the 141st Pennsylvania lost 75.7 percent. Losses were equivalent to 2% of the US population. More than 3000 horses were killed at Gettysburg. Although The Killer Angels attends to the generals and colonels in command, none of this blood is missed. The generals could walk or ride to the front line, could see the enemy in its camps, and had clear ideas of imminent reckonings. Shaara is simply brilliant in opening the hearts of his military men, allowing us to grasp their allegiances and to see them weep. To the generals, this is a moral war as well as a mortal one, and therefore it is filled with ambiguities and tensions. It is fought on American soil. It is fought against former comrades and friends. It is not about territory, kingship, faith, incursion, or transgression. It is largely about punishment, fragility, and shattered interdependence. It is leaden with variables: tactics, troops, geography, weather, arms, food, sleep, leadership, trust. History, memory, bravery, courage, resolve, loyalty, friendship, and respect are all played out, literally, on the field. Shaara's brilliance lies in his use of the monologue, diary- and letter-like personal perspectives out of the minds and perspectives of Chamberlain and Longstreet (the most compelling of the book), and Lee, whose portrait is the most detailed. He is a living saint to his men; they pause, applaud, cheer and sing for him. Bands strike up martial music in his presence. He is a source of tragic awe. General Longstreet sees him arrive early on the morning of the terrible third day of battle: Lee came out of the mists. He was tall and gray on that marvelous horse, riding majestically forward in the gray light of morning outlined against the sky, the staff all around him and behind him. Lee alone in the center, larger than them all, erect, soldierly, gazing eastward toward the enemy line. He rode up, saluted grandly. Longstreet rose. Lee rested both hands on the pommel of his saddle. The mist thickened and blew between them; there was a ghostly quality in the look of him, of all his staff, ghost riders out of the past, sabers clanking, horses breathing thick and heavy in thick dank air. Lee is flawed and failing, and costs the Confederacy the battle, and that costs the Confederacy the entire war. But this novel exists far apart from the idea of victory and loss: it is about tension and conflict that rends flesh and bone as it rends society and human nature. This is the finest Civil War novel, based on the opinions of others. It is among the strongest, fateful, inevitable war novels I have read. It is deeply compelling, grounded on history, but not on history alone. Though it is clearly and fastidiously based on documentary sources, what Shaara tells here lives and breathes. It is what cannot be told in archives, tables, maps, or (in Edmund Wilson's words) patriotic gore.

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