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The Killer Angels: The Classic Novel of the Civil War (Civil War Trilogy)
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
ISBN: 0345348109
ISBN-13: 9780345348104
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Release Date: August, 1987
Length: 355 Pages
Weight: 6.4 ounces
Dimensions: 6.6 X 4 X 1.2 inches
Language: English

The Killer Angels: The Classic Novel of the Civil War (Civil War Trilogy)

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This novel reveals more about the Battle of Gettysburg than any piece of learned nonfiction on the same subject. Michael Shaara's account of the three most important days of the Civil War features deft characterizations of all of the main actors, including Lee, Longstreet, Pickett, Buford, and Hancock. The most inspiring figure i...
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  A Masterpiece

Though so many have written before me in praise of this splendid novel that my words must be redundant, I am still impelled to hit the keyboard as an act of homage. The writer's achievement must be almost unique in that he unites an accurate, hour by hour, depiction of an actual military event with a novelist's treatment of character and motivation. Other than the Borodino section of "War and Peace" it is difficult to think of any similar achievement. The depiction of the individual characters has an uncanny immediacy and realism, and it is character that dominates the action rather than vice versa. Two set pieces dominate the novel - Chamberlain's defence of Little Round Top on the second day of Gettysburg, and Pickett's Charge on the third. The description of the latter fearsome but heroic blunder, as seen through the eyes of the noble and doomed Lewis Armistead, is so powerful, terrible and yet beautiful that this reader at least was too moved to read on immediately. Though concentrated on the three days of the battle, the ultimate themes are not war and generalship, but rather of honour, courage, integrity and love. These themes are seldom treated with such seriousness and dignity in modern popular culture, and we are the worse for it. One comes to the end of the book with a feeling of catharsis, conscious that despite all that may be thrown against us, and regardless of how often we may stumble on the way, mankind is capable of greatness. A wonderful book.
  The personalized account of the Battle of Gettysburg

I am one of those people who first read Michael Shaara's "The Killer Angels" after seeing the film "Gettysburg." Consequently the book's novel idea of telling the story of the Battle of Gettysburg by focusing on five key participants--General John Buford and Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain for the Union, along with Generals Robert E. Lee, James Longstreet and Lewis Armistead for the Confederates--was not a new idea to me. Through the eyes of these five men the crucial points of the battle--preventing the Confederates from taking the high ground on July 1, stopping Hood's division from sweeping the Federal left flank on Little Round Top on July 2, and the high water mark of the Confederacy with Pickett's Charge on July 3--are crystallized as desperate actions agonized over by the leaders who have to make the crucial decisions. Even though these five men are battlefield commanders, they still manage to personalize the battle in which more Americans were killed than were lost in the entire Vietnam War.

Shaara's son Jeff has published a Civil War prequel and sequel to his father's book, but those volumes cover more than a single battle and the focus on a limited number of characters does not work as well. Still, I appreciate that the rest of Chamberlain's story is developed, since it is the college professor from Maine who emerges from both "The Killer Angels" and the Ken Burns PBS documentary on "The Civil War" as the idealized citizen-soldier of the war. Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of both this novel and its film, are that they make the defense of Little Round Top by the 20th Maine the high point of the Battle of Gettysburg rather than Pickett's Charge, and that it is the name of Armistead rather than Pickett that we will not forget from that most famous charge. It also serves as a poignant reminder of what Buford did on the first day, before the big names and the rest of the two armies arrived at Gettysburg.

"The Killer Angels" deserves its reputation as the finest Civil War battle novel because it gives us more of a look at the psychology of these leaders than we can get from a history book. While Armistead did not really survive the battle and Buford would be dead by the end of the year, the other three lived long enough to leave behind their versions of what happened those fateful days in July 1863. Shaara goes along with Longstreet's view that Pickett's Charge was a mistake, but in terms of the book's narrative that logic gives way to the charisma of Lee's leadership, just as it did that fateful day. But that is valid since the great tragedy of the American Civil War is that the emotions that fueled the Southern Confederacy were ground down by the inevitable logic of the Union's advantages in terms of population, industry, and everything else. Even if the Army of Northern Virginia had won at Gettysburg it never could have taken Washington, Grant would have still come East to take command of the Union Armies, and all that would have changed was the time and place of Lee's inevitable surrender. What Shaara accomplishes in his Pulitzer Prize winning novel is to allow us to understand why the Rebel troops who marched towards the clump of trees at the Angle would have thought otherwise and believed it with all their hearts, minds and souls.
  The Civil War never interested me much

At least that was true until I read Michael Shaara's "Killer Angels." Now I'm a goner. I have bought five more books on the Civil War including McPherson's "Battle Cry of Freedom," a huge tome that promises to fill me in on the whole historical context, time, place, politics, all of it. All this happened because I was interested in a single book. This is Michael Shaara's fault.

It is of no consequence that the prospective reader may not have the slightest interest in war, the Civil War in particular, guns, Gettysburg, generals, muskets, artillery, smoke, fire, or death. All the reader need be interested in is a good book that is a pleasure, an enlightening experience, to read. If you like reading, if you enjoy books that captivate, that keep you turning pages, that won't let you sleep, then buy this book.

Let me note here that the author indulges in several literary devices that might pain the true Civil War buff. He uses interior monologues which are, of course, pure fiction (though based on written material of the time). He also centers his story on two major fights that took place at Gettysburg: the battle of Little Roundtop, and Pickett's Charge, even though quite a lot of other great moments occurred there. Both these battles are told well, and the characters of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain - the commander of the 20th Maine who held Little Round Top against attacking Confederates to the "last bullet," and James Longstreet, commander of the I Corps of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia who had serious differences with his superior over the tactics used at Gettysburg, are explored at depth.

By necessity, Shaara could not tell, in a single novel (for that is what this book is), all that happened those three fateful days. For those who want to know more I refer you to Shelby Foote's "Stars In Their Courses."

I aim this review at those who are unsure of whether a Civil War novel is what they want to read. Be assured you will not be disappointed. This is a truly fine book, especially for the uninitiated, as I was. I recommend this book to all without hesitation.

  As good as it gets...

Most times, I would much prefer to read a work of nonfiction as opposed to historical fiction. But after reading dozens of books about the Battle of Gettysburg, it was refreshing to read Michael Shaara's Pulitzer Prize-winning Killer Angels. This fictional account gives us a viewpoint not to be found in nonfiction works.

What makes Killer Angels different is that each chapter is written through the eyes of the various leaders from both the Union and the Confederacy including Buford, Longstreet, Lee, Chamberlain, Armistead, as well as an English observer, Fremantle. Shaara used diaries, journals, letters and memoirs to recreate not only what was happening on the battlefield, but also, what these men were thinking, seeing and feeling. It's as if you're an eyewitness to history. Killer Angels does not attempt to cover every minute of the Battle of Gettysburg. In fact, Shaara focuses on four main aspects: Buford's establishing Union lines on good ground before the battle, Longstreet's ambivalence about fighting at Gettysburg, Joshua Chamberlain and the 20th Maine defending Little Round Top and Pickett's Charge.

I found myself especially haunted by James Longstreet. Once a carefree, amiable man, he's still reeling from the recent deaths of 3 of his 4 children in one week. Robert E. Lee's number two man, he knows that a frontal attack (Pickett's charge) will be disastrous. He is tortured that Lee won't listen to his advice, and inconsolable after so many men are killed. "Along with all the horror of loss, and the weariness, and all the sick helpless rage, there was coming now a monstrous disgust. He was through. They had all died for nothing and he sent them...The army would not recover from this day."

I also gained an appreciation for Joshua Chamberlain. Chamberlain was not a trained soldier, but a college professor. But he was definitely a born leader. He started the Civil War as a lieutenant colonel and finished as a brigadier general. His heroics in leading his men on Little Round Top is a thing of legend, probably saved the Union and earned him a Medal of Honor.

I have found that once Gettysburg has gotten under your skin, you'll never tire of reading about this important battle that changed the course of the war. For fictional accounts, Killer Angels is about as good as it gets.

  Any praise of this book is an understatement.

This fine example of what historical fiction should be, which I first picked up to read as an eighth grader, was the gateway into my now militant obsession with the Civil War and my idolization of Gen. Joshua Chamberlain. The well-deserved rave reviews that litter the front and back covers drew me to it, but Shaara's powerful writing style and stunningly human characters drew me INTO it. Not surprisingly I worship the film Gettysburg and have accumulated a large collection of Civil War and Chamberlain-related literature, though some have suggested this is slightly abnormal for a fifteen year old. While reading The Killer Angels one must wonder at Shaara's amazing ability to portray the major players of the battle, whose real personalities must have since been lost over a century of historian analyzation, as real people. I absolutely love this book and jealously guard my much-used copy. To enjoy it you don't have to be a Civil War buff or even know anything about the battle, you only have to be prepared to appreciate what is epic and human in the midst of this otherwise horrifying war.