Saturday, March 24, 2012
Jessi Reviews 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
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.
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.