Saturday, March 24, 2012

Jessi Reviews The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara

Title/Author: The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara
Publisher/Year: Ballantine, 1974
Where I got it: I got my copy from my library's used book sale
Why I read it: I adore reading about anything to do with Gettysburg and the Civil War

Synopsis: 

In the four most bloody and courageous days of our nation's history, two armies fought for two dreams. One of freedom, one of a way of life. Far more than rifles and bullets were carried into battle--memories, promises, love. And far more than men fell on those Pennsylvania fields--shattered futures, forgotten innocence, and crippled beauty. It was a battleground forge for America's destiny and a sweeping panorama of valor, drama, and passion.

Review: 

My family and I have been making multiple trips a year to Gettysburg for as long as I cam remember, so I'm not sure what has taken me so long to get around to reading this. But now that I have, I'm sitting here itching to read more, more, more about this battle and its key players.

Having such a love for this town and this battlefield, perhaps I am a bit biased in giving this book five stars. I truly believe, though, that someone who has little to no knowledge of this battle could read this and enjoy it. I will say this, though, if you find yourself in that position, don't go into this reading it like a history textbook, or it will read like one. There are battle moves discussed, multiple maps (which I found very helpful actually), and many names. Try not to get too caught up in keeping it all straight.

Shaara writes beautifully, there's no other way to say it. Some of the passages within these pages literally took my breath away. He just has this stunning prose. The other part of his writing that I especially enjoyed was how his characters' thoughts starkly changed upon going into battle. Thoughts became shorter, less reflective and more instinctive. This stream-of-consciousness he employed was really effective.

For me, my favorite aspect of this novel was the characters, and I think Shaara's intent with this wasn't to provide a play-by-play of the battle tactics, but rather to take a look into the thoughts, reflections, and decision-making processes of the men behind the war. With the movie Gettysburg (which I've seen a couple times before I read this) and subsequently this book, for the first time, the Civil War was not black and white, blue and gray, right and wrong. I actually felt for both sides. Of the key players, Longstreet and Chamberlain were the most fascinating for me, and I fully intend to read more on both of them. I still am in awe of how much I felt for these men, even considering the fact that this story was written in third person, not first. I actually found myself close to tears when Longstreet was reflecting before Pickett's Charge. I just loved "seeing inside the heads" of the men of this battle.

I can't recommend this book highly enough. And honestly, if you're still hesitant about picking this one up--read a basic summary of the battle or even look up some pictures of the Gettysburg battlefield and its landscape. It'll help you get a feel for things, even though, like I said, Shaara does not write a "dusty history book." Rather, it is a compelling piece of literature well worth your read.

15 comments :

  1. This was assigned reading in my junior year American Studies class (a double period that combined American lit and history). Over Christmas break, we had to read the first section.

    About half us came back having read ahead or having finished the book, because it's such a page-turner. And every girl in the class had a major crush on Chamberlain and Bowdoin became my first choice school.

    But yes, you don't need to know a lot, or anything really, about Gettysburg to enjoy this book. You're 5 stars is not biased.

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    1. Lol, I love that every girl came back with a crush on Chamberlain. He's definitely one of my favorites, that's for sure!

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  2. I also read this my junior year, in my Dual Enrollment American History class, but unlike Jennie, my entire class HATED the book. It took weeks to get through and my teacher had to assign extra credit quizzes just so we'd read it. PAINFUL memories. I may pick it up again later to see if I'd still dislike it as much...it seems everyone else loves it!

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    1. It's definitely not a book for everyone, and I can see why people would dislike it. Gettysburg is just one of my favorite places, so it holds a certain fascination for me!

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  3. I have this on my shelf. Need to find time to read it!! Thanks for a great review :)I also have God and Generals by Jeff Shaara which is his son.

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    1. I have Gods and Generals and The Last Full Measure, but I haven't read either of them. I'll probably be trying them soon, though, after having enjoyed this so much.

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  4. I'm jealous that you get to visit Gettysburg frequently! I've heard of this novel but haven't looked at it closely. I'm encouraged by the beautiful writing.

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    1. You'll have to let me know if you get around to trying it!

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  5. Wonderful review. I read and review an older pub a few times a month and I love finding reviews for treasured reads that have been out for a long time.
    -FABR Steph

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    1. A lot of the books I read are older pubs, and I like bringing attention to older books. I feel like an outcast in the blogging world at times because I'm usually not up to date with the most current books! lol

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    1. Agreed! Have you read Gods and Generals? I've been thinking of reading that soon.

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  7. Excellent review! My brother is a big fan both Michael and Jeff Shaara, but I haven't yet read their historical fiction. Hopefully I'll get around to it soon. :)

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    1. Thank you! You'll have to let me know what you think of it if you do get around to reading it! :)

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  8. This is one of my all-time favorites. I'm envious of anyone who can visit Gettysburg so often; I've been there three times. Michael Shaara's writing is beautiful and I agree with you that it's a book that doesn't take sides. I have read Gods and Generals and Last Full Measure. Jeff does not write as well as his father, but I do think he captures his father's spirit. God's and Generals does seem more pro-South.

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