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The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara
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The Killer Angels (original 1974; edition 1996)

by Michael Shaara

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5,486123791 (4.31)265
annesadleir's review
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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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 |
Great read. Put this one down to read every July 4th week to re-educate yourself on a significant part of our history. Then watch the movie "Gettysburg." I had the privilege of being at a dinner in NYC for the 20th anniversary of the Civil War Roundtable where the guest speakers were Shelby Foote and Ken Burns and they described the book and the movie based on Shaara's novel. The third speaker of the night who couldn't make it due to weather delays was the main funding source behind the movie, Ted Turner. His only request for putting up the money was that he wanted a small part in the movie. Burns placed him in Pickett's charge the last day of the battle. If you watch closely during that scene, you can see Turner get shot running up the hill along with the other Confederate's. Put this down on your annual read and movie list. ( )
  EasyEd | Jul 18, 2013 |
"Longstreet said nothing. He was beginning to think of what to do if the spy was right. If he could not get Lee to turn now there could be disaster. And yet if the Union Army was truly out in the open at last there was a great opportunity: a sudden move south, between Hooker and Washington, cut them off from Lincoln."

I have a love-hate relationship with award winning books. Not infrequently they don't measure up to what I think an award winner should be. This book more than meets the bar set for it.

The story is told essentially from the view points of James Longstreet, Robert E. Lee, and Joshua Chamberlin, with small inclusions from Louis Armistead, John Buford, and others. That connection to the historical players makes the events more immediate, dramatic and, in the end, more touching. Highly recommended. ( )
1 vote whymaggiemay | Jun 20, 2013 |
Everyone I know who has read this book has enjoyed it, but I am not a war buff and I really thought that an entire novel dedicated to the battle of Gettysburg was a bit too much. But - I was wrong. This book is excellent! It's a wonderful peek into the minds of soldiers and leaders of both sides of this conflict. You get insight on why people fought and how hard it was to fight against neighbors and friends. Not a weeper, but definitely moving. ( )
  jmoncton | Jun 3, 2013 |
A truly excellent read!! If u have any interest in history then this is a MUST read; I developed an absolute man-crush on several characters most notably Longstreet but especially my new favorite character; Chamberlain; I mean a man’s man!!!! Also found several scoundrels and absolute worthless officers as well but I will let the reader form their own opinions there; All in all a book that not only makes you see the horrors of war but the passion of humankind at the same time; should be a must read on every high school curriculum in American History class!!! ( )
  longhorndaniel | May 29, 2013 |
Beyond helping you to understand the facts of this key battle (lots of maps showing positions on day 1, 2, 3) this book gets inside several major participants, showing some very positively (Chamberlain, Longstreet) and others (notably Ewell, Stuart and even Lee) as contributing to the negative outcome for the South.

It was striking to me how much “science” there was (is?) to “military science” . I’m not sure why this was so surprising to me. For example, quoting Chamberlain:

“Now here’s the move. Keeping up the fire, and keeping a tight hold on the Eighty-third, we refuse the line. Men will sidestep to the left, thinning out to twice the present distance. See that boulder? When we reach that point we’ll refuse the line, form a new ine at right angles. That boulder will be the salient. Let’s place the colors there, right? Five. Now you go on back and move your men in sidestep and form a new line to the boulder, and then back from the boulder like a swinging door. I assume that, ah, F Company will take the point. Clear? Any questions?”

Shaara also shows that there was very little agreement, especially in the South, about what the war was about. Most seemed amazed that slavery was brought up so often and a conversation with a Southern prisoner was related in which he declared it was about “rats” [rights], he wasn’t sure what they were, but knew some were being kept from him and that is why he was fighting.

Concerns about family and friends were highlighted—Chamberlain’s wife didn’t want him to go to war, preferring university life, Longstreet had recently lost his three children to a fever, Armistead had vowed that God should strike him dead if he ever fought his dearest friend. These all too human thoughts and concerns influenced their motivations, actions and decisions.

Truly an outstanding book. ( )
1 vote ehousewright | May 10, 2013 |
Read from June 13 to July 06, 2011

This is a solid book (great writing!), but I didn't think it was spectacular. While there is some great insight provided regarding decisions made by Lee, I feel like if I'm going to read historical fiction, I would like a little more character development...a little more emotion...a little more Gone with the Wind.

I know! I'm such a girl...but I really think this is a book really meant for guys. It's not that I think women won't enjoy it, but I think it appeals to the less-emotional state of men. Does that make sense?

I appreciate the holes the novel fills by trying to explain strategic aspects of the Civil War, but the maps included confused me more than helped me. And all the names! Hard to keep it all straight...

With all of that said, I'm glad I read it...but more than anything it makes me want to read Gone With the Wind, some John Jakes, and even a little Ken Follett. ( )
  melissarochelle | Apr 10, 2013 |
I really enjoyed this book, and I am not a Civil War history buff. I was alternating reading, and listening to the 1991 recording by George Guidall. His performance added a lot to my enjoyment. Great book. ( )
  aglater | Apr 9, 2013 |
I actually didn't mind it, but I have too many other things to read. I guess I'll never find out who won the battle of Gettysburg...
  JenneB | Apr 2, 2013 |
Tolstoy still wins for "Best fight scene," but this is in the running. Quite a large cast of characters, not always well defined, so it was a struggle to keep track of everyone - but it's such a perfect telling of one thing - Gettysburg - that yeah, it's a five star book. ( )
  AlCracka | Apr 2, 2013 |
Wonderful, powerful, better than a history book. You not only enjoy learning exactly what happened but you feel you know the characters personally as well. ( )
  shesinplainview | Apr 1, 2013 |
I can definitely see why this won the Pulitzer. It was a very vivid account of the epic battle which turned the tide in the U.S. Civil War. Shaara's intimate portrayal of some of the key players from this battle were very thought provoking and memorable. He brought them to life in a sympathetic way which never came out in the old dry history books.

War is hell. But how much worse is war against your own country? ( )
  Texas_Reaver | Mar 31, 2013 |
Normally when I hear a book won a major literary prize I run screaming in the opposite direction, but the topic has always interested me and the way the author dealt with the subject had me turning the pages like a novel.

Being an Aussie, the American Civil war was just something I was taught at school, it had no real relevance. Undoubtedly, US citizens have a totally different perspective from their much closer connection. So I understand if for some of you the book is overload of stuff you've been exposed to all your life.

Killer Angels by Michael Shaara is not a new book, in fact it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction back in 1975. It's based on the Battle of Gettysburg and looks at the action through the eyes of the significant characters of the different stages of the short but bloody battle.

In presenting history like this, the reader is very dependant on trusting the author to have done his research and is not cheating by switching a character's motivations or aims to fit the "story". In fact at times, I was imagining how Steven Spielberg would have filmed this. Would he have "killed off" certain characters just to make the drama more poignant?

It did read more like a novel. I couldn't wait to find out whether both Chamberlain brothers survived or whether Lee would ever admit his tactics were wrong.

If we can make the assumption that the author just "gives us the facts Ma'am", then after reading "Killer Angels" you definitely get a better insight not only into why one side lost and one side won, or why so many men were killed in senseless attacks, but it also tells you something about the stubbornness, courage and faith men can demonstrate.

To me the whole scenario in which the battle was fought seemed more like two macho guys arm wrestling in a pub to see who would take the pretty girl home. But maybe that's the whole point. The battle was senseless in some ways.

This wasn't for control of a strategic position or to capture a town and its produce, this was a war of attrition to see who could continue to field more men into the fight as carnage whittled away the numbers. Almost as if there was an underlying vote involved, but in this case, the winner was the one who could put the most bodies on the line.

The characters of the men involved shine through and in an epilogue we find out what happened to them afterwards. Having got to know them from the excellent way Michael Shaara got inside their heads to explain why they acted the way they did, we can extrapolate out how the rest of their life would have gone from the few facts included.

If more history was told like this, we'd all be clamoring to learn it at school.
( )
1 vote AB_Gayle | Mar 30, 2013 |
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