The Killer Angels –

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 AngelsWhen 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, wasthan 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 ofmaps 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 meanthan 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. 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 ofthan 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 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 otherssmitten 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 hisexpansive 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 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. 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 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 warclearly 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 murkinessapparent 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 tthis 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. In The Four Most Bloody And Courageous Days Of Our Nation S History, Two Armies Fought For Two Dreams One Dreamed Of Freedom, The Other Of A Way Of Life Far Than Rifles And Bullets Were Carried Into Battle There Were Memories There Were Promises There Was Love And Far Than Men Fell On Those Pennsylvania Fields Shattered Futures, Forgotten Innocence, And Crippled Beauty Were Also The Casualties Of War The Killer Angels Is Unique, Sweeping, Unforgettable A Dramatic Re Creation Of The Battleground For America S Destiny 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 farpersonal 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. 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 areinterested 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 knowabout 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. There s nothing so much like a god on earth as a General on a battlefieldMichael Shaara, The Killer AngelsOne 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.