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The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara

The Killer Angels (original 1974; edition 1996)

by Michael Shaara

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5,787135733 (4.31)283
This is a novelisation of the immediate lead up to the Battle of Gettysburg and the days of the battle itself. It's very well-written, and I enjoyed it despite knowing little about the context. ( )
  annesadleir | Apr 18, 2012 |
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This was a book that taught me a lot about war history and tactics. This book is about gettysberg. The main idea of this story is the leading up ,and the follow through of gettysberg. In this book The two armies have many skirmishes and have a few major battles leading up to gettysberg.
In this book the two armies fight in battles, the two sides the union and the rebels. In the end the Union wins and the rebels are disbanded. I recommend this book and hope anyone who reads it will like it too ( )
  ZaneH.G1 | Oct 24, 2015 |
Discussed on the A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast, episode 36.

  ScottDDanielson | Oct 23, 2015 |
Fascinating look inside the battle of Gettysburg. This historical fiction at its best won Shaara a Pulitzer Prize. ( )
  VashonJim | Sep 6, 2015 |
I may possibly have been the last Civil War enthusiast yet to read The Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara, a historical novel I have heard repeatedly referenced by historians, battlefield guides, reenactors and Civil War buffs of virtually every stripe. Now I can officially proclaim that I have read it too! But what took me so long?
I was actually reared on historical fiction – Michener, Clavell, Vidal – and I read voraciously in this arena, which had a profound effect upon my intellectual development with regard to both history and literature. Later, as I determined to become a historian, I deliberately eschewed this genre. Why? Because quality historical fiction tends to deeply ingrain its impressions in the synapses: to this day I have to vigorously resist identifying as authentically biographical the characters of Burr and Lincoln that Gore Vidal so brilliantly conceived in those marvelous eponymous historical novels.
The Killer Angels was actually pressed upon me by a friend who had often nagged me to read it. Finally, he mailed me a copy, which thus enforced a sense of guilt and obligation upon me. I still did not turn to it immediately, but I did take it along with me on a recent trip. My Master’s Degree in History was conferred at a ceremony held in National Harbor, Maryland, and it seemed fitting that my next stop post-commencement should be in the realm of the multiple Civil War battlefields at Fredericksburg, Virginia. It was in that vicinity, overlooking a tranquil pond on the deck of a rented 1830s-era log cabin in Spotsylvania, with a cup of coffee in the early morning sun just prior to a battlefield tour, that I began The Killer Angels. And I could not stop reading it.
As promised by its many fans, it is an outstanding read on a variety of levels, not least in its talent for recreating the time and circumstances, effortlessly placing the reader in that milieu to walk with the characters on those crucial days that saw what was the largest land battle in North America. A complex yet engaging storyline that never grows dull, perhaps its greatest strength is in its skilled characterizations that truly bring colorful animation to a long-dead cast of otherwise monochromatic figures. The grand scale of Gettysburg is resurrected, as well as what this battle would mean for each side in a clash that while hardly deciding the war nevertheless placed a pronounced exclamation mark in the course of how its narrative would be writ ever afterward.
Although the characters were exceedingly well drawn, I did not need to fear that I would confuse fiction for biography here, since I have previously read more than a little about central players such as Lee, Longstreet and Chamberlain. I have visited the battlefield, once with a guide in my car and on foot, and again on a walking tour with the legendary Ed Bearss. I had not believed that a novel set on those grounds on those days would hold much value for me, but in this I was mistaken: Shaara’s deliberately understated prose that deftly wove history with literature made me “feel” the events there as I never thought possible. I was indeed stirred in a way I never could have anticipated.
In the end, I do not regret waiting this long to read this fine novel. While I am thankful that I had a firm historical foundation in place prior to entertaining the drama, I am yet even more grateful then for that drama. If it turns out that I was not truly the absolute last person to read this book, I would urge those who have taken my place to pick up a copy: you truly will not regret it. ( )
  Garp83 | Jul 19, 2015 |
This summer a friend and I were trying to decide on a destination for a short trip. We knew it had to be reasonably close, because we only had what amounted to an extended weekend but it also had to be far enough to make it seem like a mini vacation. We were suffering from a terrible case of the "been there, done thats" when my friend mentioned a long time desire to visit Gettysburg. A desire brought on by playing a video game of all things. Although I had no overwhelming desire to visit Gettysburg, it turned out to be a fascinating destination, which led me to pick up some books to find out more about what I had learned while visiting. I generally shy away from three genres of books ... westerns, sci-fi and war ... this was definitely an exception to the rule.

Where GODS AND GENERALS (Jeff Shaara) focuses on the years leading up to the Civil War, Michael Shaara’s book covers primarily the three days of fighting at Gettysburg. The events immediately before and during the battle are “seen through the eyes of Confederate Generals Lee, Longstreet, and Armistead and Federal General Buford, Colonel Joshua L. Chamberlain, and a host of others”. (Quote from the book cover)

While the book seems to be well researched (Despite my visit to Gettysburg I am still in no position to judge this fact with any accuracy) it is a work of historical fiction. I was not looking for a history book; I was looking for a book to give me the flavor of those years and possibly some understanding of this period in U.S. history. My needs were met.

( )
  ChristineEllei | Jul 14, 2015 |
The Killer Angels] is a novel about the Battle of Gettysburg, focusing on the thoughts and actions of but a few of the hundreds of thousands of combatants on those fateful three days in July 1863. It was awarded the Pulitzer for fiction in 1975, and served as the basis for the epic movie Gettysburg. I've seen the movie, visited the battlefield, read quite a few Civil War histories. I loved this book and recommend it.

In a prefatory note, Shaara asserts he relied primarily on the words, letters, and documents of the participants, rather than historical opinion, that he hasn't altered facts (though he admits to some condensation for the sake of brevity), and that interpretation of character is his own. Maps—they are a great feature—show the alignment of confederate and union forces at critical times.

The novel touches on every aspect of the war, from the mindsets and morale of individual foot soldiers, the epic casts, the logistical challenges, the impact of personalities. Rather than lay out information in PowerPoint, Shaara conveys it in man-to-man confrontations, in vignettes. The dominant viewpoint is southern, the core tension that between Lee, who is determined to fight at this place, and Longstreet, his most trusted general, who wants to withdraw and fight another day in terrain and circumstances more auspicious to them.

The key figures in Shaara's telling:

General James Longstreet, who sees a fight his Confederates can't win.

General Robert E. Lee, revered commander of all Confederate forces, who sees a fight that must be won.

General John Buford, first Union officer in Gettyburg, who recognizes the high ground and determines to hold it against advancing Rebs, hold it until the main Union force arrives.

Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, former Bowdoin College rhetorics professor, charged with holding Little Round Top—at the very end of the Union line—with an undermanned unit.

Confederate General Lewis Armistead, who longs for one last visit with General Winfield Scott Hancock, a lifelong friend who is fighting for the Union.

General George Pickett, champing to get into the fight, on the third and final day.

Englishman Arthur Fremantle, a journalist following the Southern forces, cheering them on to what he confidently believes will be a glorious victory. ( )
  weird_O | May 20, 2015 |
A remarkable and unique re-creation of one of the bloodiest and hard fought battles of the Civil War. Shaara has you looking through the eyes of the officers on both sides, so that you can try too relate what the atmosphere was like during this conflict. It gave me a totally different objection about this battle. ( )
  Gatorhater | May 18, 2015 |
This book is often shown as being second in the "civil war trilogy", which I think is misleading: this book was written first, and the other two book in the so-called "trilogy" were written by someone else. So I consider this a stand-alone book.

As a British person, I didn't know much about the battle of Gettysburg other than it was the first big defeat for the confederacy and marked the turning of the tide for the American civil war. I think the book expects you to know a bit more about the battle, as it makes comments that are ironic or pathetic when you know the final outcome.

So I'd recommend that people who don't know much about the battle do a bit of research first, as that will help the enjoyment of the book. ( )
1 vote Pondlife | May 11, 2015 |
It takes a great writer to get me interested in a military battle, generals, strategies, etc. This author makes Gettysburg come alive by making the participants into real people. ( )
  anitatally | Feb 3, 2015 |
I loved this novel. The Civil War fascinates me, as I think it does many others, and it makes me so sad. The section on Pickett's charge made me bawl. I obviously don't ultimately wish that the South had won, but reading this made me want to yell, "Don't do that!" My heart broke for Lee and Longstreet and all the other Southerners involved in the Civil War. I have fond memories of watching this movie with my Dad, but the book blows the movie away. ( )
  carebear10712 | Dec 31, 2014 |
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 |
Centered on the battle of Gettysburg, the novel sees the battle mostly from the Confederate perspective. The major exception is a reliance on Joshua Chamberlain, a personal hero of mine, for a the Union view. One can never rely much on a historical novel for a truthful view, but this one seems to carry the day on this battle. ( )
1 vote buffalogr | May 15, 2014 |
A must read for all Civil War buffs! Though it is fiction, Michael Shaara helps the reader smell the gunpowder, hear the canons roar, and stand within earshot of some of the greatest generals to ever live. ( )
  mgeorge2755 | May 13, 2014 |
Remarkable stories. One of my favorites. ( )
  ibkennedy | Mar 3, 2014 |
Jane's recommendation. Good, but a bit slow getting into it. I'm not a huge fan of war fiction, but this is very well done. It has been on my list for many years. ( )
  njcur | Feb 13, 2014 |
I dork out on history as it is, but Killer Angels is on it's own level. This is by far the best historical novel I've ever read. You feel the weight of what was happening on a grand scale and on a personal scale soldier to soldier. I loved it and I couldn't recommend it higher. ( )
  crossovers | Jan 4, 2014 |
Read this in high school and completed a Civil War project using it as source material per teacher's instructions. I remember thinking it wasn't horrible, just not my preferred genre. ( )
  StefanieGeeks | Jan 3, 2014 |
The heavy smoke rises from the smoldering field where the heaps of dead look like small mountains in the blood soaked wheat. The riderless horse stumbles across the field along with the humiliated soldiers. The men’s faces are like screens showing the brave men with swords pointed north towards their enemies and the flags rising up the hill. The only sign of life on the glorious field where the dead have shown their medals to the very end, is the horse. The soldiers weep for lost comrades and because of the defeat. One man sits tall and proud on the top of his horse, his gray felt cap brushing his eyebrows, and his white beard is like a magnet drawing the soldiers to their only hope. He claims that it is all his fault, but the men take the blame. His name is Lee.
During the book, The Killer Angels, Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia( Confederates) make an attempt to invade Washington D.C., but they are headed off by the Union army at a small town called Gettysburg in Pennsylvania. The two armies collide on July 1st, 1863 in the fields around Gettysburg. The Union army is pushed back, but they make a wise decision to retreat to the hills around Gettysburg. They dig in all through the night and in the morning the Confederates make their assault on the heights looking over Gettysburg. The second day ends with a brutal loss and almost 20,000 are lost on the assault on the hills. Through the night the commanders on both sides of the field draw up their plans and the next morning they execute. The confederates beat them to the line and attack right up the center. The Confederates charge valiantly up the hill in a line almost a mile long and the victory is almost in sight.
This book has a very interesting chapter sequence where each chapter is from the view of a different commander at the battle of Gettysburg. This book is about the thoughts, actions, and bravery of the men at Gettysburg, which was a revolution to books about the Civil War. This is the aspect that made me have a true interaction with this book and a deep feeling for the people who were involved. This also is my favorite aspect of the book, because it allows you to make a connection between the past and the present which is rare in todays books. This historical fiction novel is great for anyone who likes historical fiction or any history, especially the Civil War. This book was overall great, a little dull at times, but is really able to capture the true American spirit. ( )
  br14gape | Nov 21, 2013 |
Well, the best Gettysburg Novel I ever read was Mackinley Kantor's "Long Remember", but this is a good book if you haven't read the Kantor book yet. I confess that liked the "Gettysburg" Movie just fine, the best performance by Jeff Daniels I've seen. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Sep 30, 2013 |
While looking for some brain candy to read over spring break, I picked this up. It is not brain candy, but it is a fast read, and worth every minute invested. On the other hand, it might just have been the gripping writing that kept me turning pages. ( )
  publiusdb | Aug 22, 2013 |
I feel bad I didn't like this more. My whole family revers it, as I know many do. I found moments of it moving. I liked Longstreet a lot. And I was pretty interested in the ambiguous feelings the book elicits about Robert E. Lee. Joshua Chamberlain was a veru sincerely dreamed character--hard not to be a little moved by how moved Shaara was by him.

There's a romance to the book, though, a reverence for war and manly sacrifice that I just feel like I've had enough of just by living in the world. Very little in the book surprised me besides how many bad decisions and how much misinformation shapes major military actions. But I guess I kinda knew that already.

The book feels naive to me because it finds the whole gruesome thing so noble and the story of the day so knowable, so coherent and gives it to the heroes for the telling.

I read this to think about how traditional fictional histories are told and in that respect it was helpful. ( )
1 vote wordlikeabell | Jul 29, 2013 |
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