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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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5,413121802 (4.31)259
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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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 |
My reactions to reading this book in 1993. Spoilers follow.

I don’t ordinarily read historical novels, so this was a change for me. Generally I prefer my history straight. Reading historical novels for history is like reading sf for science. You may learn something true, but you may also learn a lot of lies and distorted truths. However, I enjoyed this novel a great deal, and I’m told by Civil War buffs it’s very historically accurate.

You can argue that doing a novel of a famous battle with all historically accurate characters whose feelings and thoughts and actions were documented by them and others is not that hard. Of course, the hard part is knowing what to include, what to disregard, what to distort. This is all covered by the old saying of art organizing experience. Shaara does a nice job not only of giving a concise (though somewhat condensed) version of the Battle of Gettysburg (and dispels the notion it started over a raiding of shoe warehouses in Gettysburg) complete with maps and a description of what the various officers on both sides hoped to achieve, but he also provides compelling portraits of the various characters and the reasons men fight.

Opening epigraphs from before, after, and urin he battle show that men fight for abstract ideals, friends, and their state – literally in the Civil War -- and God. Shaara says the motivations of characters are his own. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain came across as a totally believeable, clever man who has some strange mental wanderings during combat. The characters of Robert E. Lee and James Longstreet were the best things in this novel. Longstreet, a proponent of defensive war, is Lee’s friend and th advisor trusted most. But Lee won’t listen to Longstreet in the Battle though he seeks out Longstreet’s advice. For his part, Longstreet admires and respects Lee, is faithful to him, but gradually we see Longstreet lose faith – though not devotion or love – in Lee as he orders increasingly futile moves culminating in Pickett’s Charge. Longstreet’s view of Lee is a seemingly (to me) novel one and thought provoking. He sees Lee’s great assets as his men’s devotion, his decisiveness, and confidence and faith in his cause; he’s the embodiment of the aristocratic Southerner’s view that faith in a cause and mere courage are enough to win. Longstreet knows these are not enough against the new technologies of war. Far from seeing Lee as devious (as the delightful British military observor Freemantle says), Longstreet sees him as merely being fortunate in not meeting a competent Union general. Longstreet’s character is increasingly depressed at the senseless tactics he sees the South use and the men who cheerfully go to their deaths using them. Lee seems, at times, a fantatical man who is convinced that Gettysburg is a sign of divine favor, a Southern victory that can be grasped with a willingness to sacrifice as much of his army as is necessary.

The telling of Pickett’s Charge through the eyes of Louis Armistead was well done and moving as well as his love for his friend Winfield Hancock, an officer on the Union side who will meet him as he dies. I liked the opening bits with Harrison the spy and John Buford, a Union officer, who realizes Gettysburg’s topographical value. The fascination with the Battle of Gettysburg is obvious. Not only was it big (in both numbers and length) and significant, but there were many times when it hinged on small acts (relatively speaking given the size of the forces), a few minutes, and moments of hesitation, indecision, and competence. This battle had several turning points.

An all around excellent, informative, well done book of battle and character ( )
1 vote RandyStafford | Mar 8, 2013 |
I loved this book, but it was a historical fiction book and I don’t think many people, excepted history buffs or Civil War fans would want to read it. Beyond that it was amazing. I couldn’t think of better details to describe the horrors of war and it really feels like you were in some of the leader’s shoes. It is a must read for any fans of history. I read this book because I’m a big history buff and thought a book about the Civil War would be good read. This book turned out to be one of the beast books I’ve ever read.
  edspicer | Feb 11, 2013 |
I am not really a fan of books about war. I have trouble envisioning the action and the maneuvers of the troops, and I find that I get lost in the details and just don't really care about the characters.

Because of this, I didn't have high hopes for The Killer Angels, but it was this month's selection for my book club and I decided to give it a try.

This book was incredible. I did have some trouble keeping track of the characters. I ended up making myself a cheat-sheet with things like, "Longstreet - Confederate general. Lee's second-in-command. Nickname: Pete." Actually, Longstreet I could keep track of. It was Pettigrew and Pender and Sykes and Sedgewick that kept tripping me up. The maps were very helpful as I tried to visualize the action, but they were less helpful when I couldn't remember which names were Union and which were Confederate.

This is a novel, so it's a fictionalized account of the Battle of Gettysburg, but Shaara clearly did his research. Written from the shifting perspective of the main players in the battle and drawn from the personal correspondence of these men as well as the historic record and Shaara's own embellishments and best guesses, this book explained the nuances of the battle and of the war more clearly than I've read before. I've been taught the Civil War from the perspective that there was a clear side to root for. I've known for a long while that the reality was murkier than this, but Shaara helped make this murkiness more apparent to me (or perhaps I'm just now of an age where I can embrace murkiness better than I could in high school and college). There is a distinction here between the Cause and the people doing the fighting. I don't think that's a distinction I've often seen.

Shaara puts the reader in Gettysburg, not only in the location but in the minds of the people who were there. All of the things people say about the Civil War---the idea of brothers fighting against brothers, the internal conflict and sense of near heresy of killing one's own countrymen, the ambivalence of Northerners to the people the slaves were even as they disagreed with the institution of slavery---Shaara illustrates clearly here.

The book was peppered with lyrical, powerful passages, but two stood out for me as particularly moving.

One was a speech Chamberlain gives to a group of would-be deserters handed over as prisoners to his brigade to try and convince a few of them to fight rather than just ride out the battle as prisoners.

"This is a different kind of army," Chamberlain explains. "If you look at history you'll see men fight for pay, or women, or some other kind of loot. They fight for land, or because a king makes them, or just because they like killing. But we're here for something new. I don't...this hasn't happened in the history of the world. We're an army going out to set other men free."

The other passage that really struck me was when Longstreet and Hood were saying goodbye to one another before a fight. Longstreet puts out his hand for Hood to shake.

"Hood took the hand, held it for a moment. Sometimes you touched a man like this and it was the last time, and the next time you saw him he was cold and white and bloodless, and the warmth was gone forever."

I just found the way Shaara used language to be powerful, poignant, but not overdone at all. He has a light touch which let the scenes shine through. The writing was easy to read, the story rather less so.

I think I can at blame this book at least in part for the gloomy mood I've been in the past few days. It's an incredible book about an infamously dark battle in our country's darkest war. ( )
2 vote ImperfectCJ | Dec 31, 2012 |
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