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The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara
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The Killer Angels (1974)

by Michael Shaara

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The Killer Angels tremendously moved me. I am not a Civil War buff. I've never been interested in popular movies or documentaries on the subject. Aside from school texts, I've never read about the war. No offense to anyone, but folks who spend their time re-enacting the Civil War will forever perplex me.

So what led me Michael Shaara’s book? Joss Whedon, who has cited it as an inspiration for Firefly, one my favorite cancelled-before-its-time shows. I’m not quite a Whedon fan girl, and there were other potentially compelling reasons to read this book, from its having been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction to the fact that according to the all-knowing Wikipedia, “It is one of only two novels on the U.S. Army's recommended reading list for Officer Professional Development” and has been required reading for all sorts of U.S. military entities. Had I not needed all that convincing, I hope I would still have had it thrust upon me it one day, for the writing is absolutely lovely, the characterizations are thoughtful, and the gravity of those three days of battle has never pressed more upon me. ( )
  mpho3 | Dec 10, 2014 |
Gettysburg. A three day fight in the middle of the American Civil War that was in many ways a pivotal moment that brought eventual northern victory. The Killer Angels focuses on each day of the battle from multiple perspectives: Joshua Chamberlain, the leader of a Maine division whose brother is with him; General Longstreet, a Virginian who argues with General Lee but does his duty as a soldier; General Lee, commander of the southern army who seeks God's will and fought for man and soil over country; and many others.

This is the book on which the movie Gettysburg was based. Just as when I was watching the movie, there was so much going on and so many people that I sometimes lost track of who I was following. The maps were really helpful in understanding strategy, which gave a good amount of detail without getting overwhelmingly technical. Shaara's style was often staccato bursts of sentence fragments and not the prettiest-sounding prose, but his descriptions of warfare were heartbreaking and vivid. ( )
1 vote bell7 | Oct 25, 2014 |
A friend told me that the best Civil War novel ever written was Killer Angels. After reading it, I totally agree. The novel is expertly read by Stephen Hoye. It is well written and informative without ever being tedious. The Civil War practically danced across the pages with a ferocity that captivated me. I could smell the smoke from explosions, feel the dust in the fields and see the bodies sacrificed and bloodied. The narrative is so brutally honest that it touches a nerve. Why was this war fought, to free slaves, to prop up and support the economy, to guarantee man’s rights according to the interpretation of the Constitution? If cooler heads prevailed, could there have been another way to solve the country’s problems? This book, which was written four decades ago, is still very relevant.
The Battle of Gettysburg was brutal over the course of four nightmarish days. The author captured the minds and hearts of his characters as he made them real and put the reader on the battlefield. The battlefield erupts as if the reader was in its midst. The soldiers and officers take on a life of their own. It is not fraught with filthy language or unnecessary sex; it is not fraught with silly dialogue. It is fraught with emotion and a reality you can almost reach out and touch.
I felt the pain in General Lee’s arm, the exhaustion of General Longstreet. My heart ached for Longstreet who had to follow orders even though he knew it would lead his men to death. He had to witness and accept the folly of foolish generals and politicians, like Stuart who failed to warn General Lee of the troop movements of the Union, who managed to miss this key battle and might have been the catalyst for their defeat. Then it ached alternately for the opposite side, the Union, for Chamberlain as he tried to protect his brother, fought a battle that he didn’t think he could win, took a hill and held it against all odds. I felt his courage as he yelled fix bayonets and charged the enemy on what he thought was a suicide mission, without ammunition, and yet winning that decisive battle, defeating an enemy greater in number by sheer force of will. Was it fate, destiny? I began to understand the weight of the burden the generals bore, the decisions that concerned life and death that had to be made, and the arrogance that was the catalyst for failure. In the end, though, it felt like luck prevailed for one side or another very capriciously.
The reader will witness the excitement of the soldiers who loved the violent action, the beauty of the exploding shells and the flight of the bullets whizzing by. The reader may wonder at their madness but will know and understand that they are loyal and devoted to their cause, no matter what side they are on, the Union or Confederacy. You can taste the frustration and fear of the generals as they contemplate decisions that will take men’s lives and then wonder at the coldness of their resolve afterwards, knowing that it was their only choice at the time, or so they thought.
I love this book because even though it is a fictional military novel, it is based on fact. It isn’t crude or so violent that it becomes unreadable, and it has only a rare moment of questionable language. These soldier's behavior seemed so civilized; the officers were thoughtful and well educated, and many were West Point trained, though perhaps inexperienced in battle, and ridiculed at times. While there was honor as well as stupid blind obedience, there was also loyalty and devotion to a cause. They had to trust one another to survive or fall, and most did both honorably.
The sad thing is that friend was forced to fight friend, becoming sudden enemies. Family members suddenly found themselves on opposite sides. In the end it epitomized the futility of war. There is so much loss and suffering to attain a goal. Hopefully, someday, we will find a better way to resolve conflict. ( )
  thewanderingjew | Sep 21, 2014 |
Three days. In just three days (July 1 – 3, 1863), the battle of Gettysburg was fought. The number of casualties was greatest at the battle of Gettysburg than of any other battle of the war. There was a loss of 46,000 to 51,000 soldiers from both armies in this three-day battle and it has been considered the turning point of the war.

Killer Angels tells the story from both sides of the war, giving the men’s likely verbal expressions and a vivid description of their circumstances. The reader is brought into the movement of the generals and their armies and the exhausting combat. We can feel the heartbreak of Hancock and Armistead who were friends and are now on opposite sides. This was not a unique situation as the American Civil War has been known to place brother against brother and friend against friend.

Michael Shaara’s Killer Angels was a Pulitzer Prize winning novel. It is not a new novel having been first published in 1974. While it is based on fact, it comes to life for the reader with the addition of likely discussions and actions of the generals; their men; and surroundings. Most of the detail is necessary and wanted to help you to get into the battle with the men. However, at times the detail slows the action down. I rated this 4 out of 5.

http://www.fictionzeal.com/killer-angels-classic-novel-civil-war-civil-war-trilo... ( )
  FictionZeal | Aug 31, 2014 |
Jeff's father has written a book about just the Battle of Gettysburg. It plods in places but places one right in the battle. Clearly, the way Lee fought the battle was not the best way but amazingly, except for a few criticisms and his own admission of failure, Lee is not blamed. It's almost as if Lee was a god. Shaara insinuates health issues for Lee through out the first 3/4 of the book. He also describes a Confederate army that has no concept of defeat and an inability to accept its limitations. ( )
  DeaconBernie | Aug 6, 2014 |
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This is an account of how the book came to be written...
added by danielx | editNew York times, Paul Leigh (Jun 29, 2013)
 
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Epigraph
"When men take up arms to set other men free, there is something sacred and holy in the warfare."

- Woodrow Wilson
"I hate the idea of causes, 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."

- E. M. Forster
"With all my devotion to the Union and the feeling of loyalty and duty of an American citizen, I have not been able to raise my hand against my relatives, my children, my home. I have therefore resigned my commission in the Army. . . ."

- from a letter of Robert E. Lee
Mr. Mason: How do you justify your acts?
John Brown: I think, my friend, you are guilty of a great wrong against God and humanity---I say it without wishing to be offensive---and it would be perfectly right for anyone to interfere with you so far as to free those you willfully and wickedly hold in bondage. I do not say this insultingly.
Mr. Mason: I understand that.

- from an interview with John Brown after his capture
Mine eyes have seen the glory . . .
Dedication
To Lila (old George)
. . . in whom I am well pleased
First words
1. THE SPY

He rode into the dark of the woods and dismounted.
Quotations
...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 an then said stiffly, "Well, boy, if he's an angel, he's sure a murderin' angel."
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Book description
The book tells the story of four days of the Battle of Gettysburg in the American Civil War: June 30, 1863, as the troops of both the Union and the Confederacy move into battle around the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and July 1, July 2, and July 3, when the battle was fought. The story is character driven and told from the perspective of various protagonists.

AR 4.7, 15 Pts
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0345348109, Mass Market Paperback)

This novel reveals more about the Battle of Gettysburg than any piece of learned nonfiction on the same subject. Michael Shaara's account of the three most important days of the Civil War features deft characterizations of all of the main actors, including Lee, Longstreet, Pickett, Buford, and Hancock. The most inspiring figure in the book, however, is Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, whose 20th Maine regiment of volunteers held the Union's left flank on the second day of the battle. This unit's bravery at Little Round Top helped turned the tide of the war against the rebels. There are also plenty of maps, which convey a complete sense of what happened July 1-3, 1863. Reading about the past is rarely so much fun as on these pages.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:53:20 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

The Battle of Gettysburg was fought for two dreams-- freedom, and a way of life. Memories, promises, and love were carried into the battle but what fell was shattered futures, forgotten innocence, and crippled beauty.

» see all 13 descriptions

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