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The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara

The Killer Angels (original 1974; edition 1996)

by Michael Shaara

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5,704134746 (4.31)272
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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The Battle of Gettysburg seen thru the eyes of Gen. Robt. E. Lee, Gen. Jas. Longstreet, Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, & others ( )
  kewlgeek | Jun 30, 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 |
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 |
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