Read and Review

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Monday, April 10, 2006

The Killer Angels


If I were going to sit down and write a list of the five best books I have ever read, Michael Shaara's Pulitzer Prize winner would be one of the first one or two titles I wrote down. We follow the combatants of Gettysburg over a span of about a week. The main characters spotlighted were names like Lee, Longstreet, Buford, Hancock and Chamberlain. And, of course, there was Pickett. We're shown the Battle of Gettysburg in a way that it has never been shown before, and the result is exceptional. From the Confederate victory on day one, to Chamberlain's heroics on day two, to Hancock's stand against Pickett's courageous charge on day three, this book breathes life into history.

Michael Shaara gives his account of the Battle of Gettysburg in a way that goes beyond describing the battlefield, the popping muskets and the thundering cannons. He adds flavor that makes the story much more personable. Before this book, I knew what had happened at Gettysburg. After this book, I saw what happened because I felt like I had experienced it first hand. Yes, this book is fiction because Shaara interjects his dialogue between the characters, but it is very much historically accurate. In other words, the fiction is not that Jeb Stuart's absence from the first two days of battle contributed greatly to the south's defeat. The fiction is in Lee's behind-closed-doors response to Stuart. And I would guess that Shaara's take on such conversations isn't too far off.

Aside from the rich character development and flavorful dialogue, Shaara also excels in the key ingredients of military fiction. His battle descriptions are beyond vivid and his deep research into the history of the battle also shows. He also does a splendid job of portraying the so called 'fog of war', removing the convenient hindsight that history uses to look upon this battle and putting the reader in the moment and nearly forgetting the knowledge of what was to follow.
If you're a fan of history and the Civil War, this book is a must-read, if you haven't already read it. But it won't just appeal to this group. People who simply enjoy quality writing and good fiction will have just as much difficulty putting it down. Don't let this book go unread.

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