on 7 July 1998
I've always been leery of historical works of fiction in which an author attempts to put words and thoughts into an established historical figure. This is treacherous territory.
If the reader is lucky the author strikes fairly close to the mark. The other side of the coin, however, is when the reader comes across a passage and thinks, "Now where in the world did the author come up with that!" "The Last Full Measure" has both elements.
On one hand Jeff Shaara appears to have bought into the Lee-as-suffering-saint syndrome. If it were Stonewall Jackson Shaara were writing about it would have been a bit easier to digest.
On the other his portraits of Grant and Chamberlain ring fairly true although Ambrose Burnside comes off more as a caricature than a living breathing person.
These minor criticisms notwithstanding, the book is good read which most Civil War buffs will certainly enjoy and any one looking for a good read should give a try.
on 3 June 1999
This book is the best Civil War book written by Jeff Shaara. I have read The Killer Angels and Gods and Generals and I loved them both. I like the way that both of the Shaaras wrote their books from the viewpoint of the people actually fighting. Shaara is a master of words, and makes you feel what the characters are feeling. He showed the war as it was during the last years of the war. After I finish The Last Full Measure, I'll probably go back and read them all over again!
I think this book, and the two preceding it should be required reading in school. I had no idea how horrific this war was, particularly more so as the brutalities committed on both sides were against our own. There were so many moments when I wanted to stop and cry for the loss of life, and especially at the end when the one man who was capable of healing the country and bringing us all back together as one nation, Abraham Lincoln, was assassinated.
The research was impeccable and telling the story from the viewpoints of the various generals absolutely fascinating. The honorable Robert E. Lee, Chamberlain (loved his gracious salute to the surrendering army), and the ever fascinating U.S. Grant.
One quote from so many in the book that just brought tears to my eyes: "Yes, it was horrible, horrible indeed. But he had to tell himself that, remind himself to see it that way. There was no sickening revulsion, no outrage, no indignation at the barbarism. It was just one more scene from this war, one more horror, one more mass of death, blending together with all the rest."
Highly highly recommended, and will definitely open your eyes to the horror of war.
on 13 June 1998
If you approach a Jeff Shaara book and expect to find his father's "Killer Angles," stop right there. You won't. And this is something that Jeff himself admits. But "The Last Full Measure" comes much closer to the spirit of his father's Pulitizer Prize winning novel than "Gods & Generals" did. This book is darker, gloomier and bloodier than G&G, or even KA for that matter. And therein lies its greatest strength. It is also structured much differently than G&G with fewer main characters and more time spent on the front lines in the heat of combat. Just as the style of combat has changed during these last two years of the war, the charactors have changing too. Lee has grown mentally stronger, physically weaker, but much angrier and less patient with bungling subordinates. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain seems to have discarded his idealism for a far more realistic fatalism. And Jeff has fleshed out the "new" character of General Ulysses S. Grant in grand fashion, making him much more human, caring, and yes, lovable. The "butcher" from Galena has never been more honestly portrayed in a work of ficiton. My only regret is that "Gods & Generals" will be made into a movie long before "Last Full Measure." This is definately the superior story of the two. I can hardly wait to read Jeff's next novel, which will again bring back many of these fascinating people in their younger years during the Mexican War.
on 18 June 1998
We have long lived with the popular opinion that Robert E. Lee was a complex and fascinating individual while his counterpart, Ulysses S. Grant was an unimaginative counter-puncher. True students of the Civil War have long known that Grant was a much more fascinating and complex individual than his popular charicature allowed. In The Last Full Measure, Jeff Shaara focuses the same searching spotlight on Grant that we saw focused on Lee, Jackson, Longstreet, Hancock, and Chamberlain in his book "Gods and Generals" and his fathers definitive work, "The Killer Angels." This book covers the post-Gettysburg war including the ugliness of the Wilderness Campaign and the Siege of Petersburg. It is hard to find nobility in the human cruelty and violence of that type of war, but Shaara finds it in the charactes of these commanders including Grant. Grant had an uncanny way of keeping his true character and personality from interfering with his strategy and tactics. He knew with certainty as soon as he entered the eastern theater that his strategy had a high probability of success -- nearly certain. But to have the courage and fortitude to pursue such a demoralizing and horrible type of war demanded a strength few Union generals ever showed. Shaara shows us the men inside these marble statues and how they struggled and wrestled with the horror and violence of their trade, yet still maintained all that was noble about men. This is a brilliant book, historically accurate and moving. It shows us our real heroes, complete with moments of weakness and human feelings. Jeff Shaara has taken a step closer to dupliating his father's fantastic work in Killer Angels. He is to be congratulated.
on 23 August 1998
I have spent the summer reading Gods and Generals, The Killer Angels, and The Last Full Measure back-to-back-to-back. And I'm emotionally exhausted. I have spent my whole life in the South and have always felt I knew the stories of the War Between the States or the "War of Northern Aggression." I learned so much this summer reading the Shaaras' books. Gods and Generals was a delight to read. Why, after all, the South was constantly overcoming incredible odds to win battle after battle! However, it took at least 50 pages to get used to all the broken thoughts connected with commas. So it was a joy reading the easy flowing style of Michael Shaara in The Killer Angels. However, emotionally, it was a bit harder to live with. I had come to love J.E.B. Stuart in the previous book and was quite disappointed at his failures in this story.
When I received my copy of The Last Full Measure from Amazon.com in July, it only took me about 25 pages to get back into the confusing style of the excessive comma, but the book was hard to finish not because of Jeff Shaara's punctuation style but because of the heart wrenching situation in which Lee and his troops found themselves. It was very hard reading about the slow death of this once unbeatable, high-spirited army.
If you have any interest at all in this terrible war that tore our country in two, by all means read these books. I gained an insight into the "yankee" mind -- as scarry as that seems to this Southerner -- that gave me an understanding of what they went through. I hope that readers will come to understand that the South was not defended by an army of racists that fought to maintain slavery. If that's what you think this war was about and why these men continued to fight in such horrendous conditions -- you NEED to read these books!
Thank you, Jeff Shaara, for all the time you must have spent researching this book as well as Gods and Generals. I have had a remarkable summer living in the 1860s.
on 29 June 1998
I came away from Gods and Generals a bit disappointed. It wasn't bad but it was pedestrian, an illustration that Jeff Shaara clearly wasn't his father. The Last Full Measure changes my mind.
No, it's not Michael Shaara's "The Killer Angels'' _ very few books are_ but it's hardly pedestrian. And its central theme is far darker _ that war is about killing. Sherman ("War is Hell'') got it right and was instantly misunderstood. Sherman's total war was an effort to win quickly by destroying everything around him,anticipating all too well the next century's horrors.
What Jeff Shaara captures here is the same sentiment in Lincoln and Grant, who realized by 1864 that the more men killed on both sides, the more quickly the North would win because of its manpower advantage. It's rarely presented that way, perhaps because history has so mythologized Lincoln that to state it might tarnish his image. Shaara doesn't overstate the philosophy, instead simply puts it in Grant's thoughts. Finally, Shaara captures the personal links his father used so well. In fact, he may do it better _ one of the few weak spots in "The Killer Angels'' is the oversentimental Armistead-Hancock relationship. In this case, it's there in the prewar friendship between Grant and Longstreet, the reminisences between Grant and Hancock and the thoughts of Lee on the abilities of George Thomas and of Grant and Lee on John Bell Hood. There are weak spots. Except in the scene before Petersburg in which he's used to demonstrate the ineptness of Meade's chain of comman, he has little use. He's there, I suspect, because he was the central character in The Killer Angels. If Shaara's trying to balance the professional soldiers (Grant and Lee) against the volunteer, it doesn't quite come off.
But this is a solid, solid effort, far better than Gods and Generals and not too far from Michael Shaara's masterpiece, which is probably the best piece of fiction written on any war.
on 17 June 1998
Like the book's title -- borrowed not only from Lincoln but also Richard Moe (author of an identically titled book about the 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry) -- this book is not as original as the prior two. The final volume of the triology is a bit more tedious; however, the Civil War buff will not wish to pass it by. It is generally readable and the maps provide helpful clarity. The addition of Grant as a major character refreshes the outlook. His handling of the Army of the Potomac's reception to Grant's command, and Grant's relationship with Lincoln are insightful. The pages leading to Appomattox -- and the author's depiction of the surrender itself -- are poignant. They capture the steady decline and ultimate dessimation of the Confederate ranks and the profound sorrow and stress Lee must have felt. The final chapter, summarizing the last years of Lee, Chamberlain and Grant are excellent. I was a bit surprised, however, that Shaara did not find a more memorable conclusion to the Chamberlain chapter -- perhaps from the General's many post-war writings -- as he did for Lee and Grant. Without notable exception, the book appears true to generally accepted historical fact. While not the measure of its predecessors, The Last Full Measure is, nonetheless, a nice complement.
on 3 July 1998
Rarely can we find a triology so well written and covering such wide scope of topics that the works of the father and son team of Michael and Jeff Shaara have put together in "The Killer Angels", "Gods and Generals" and "The Last Full Measure". Despite the fact that over a generation has passed since "The Killer Angels" was originally released, the next two segments hold up extremely well. As an avid reader of historical fiction and historical reviews, I cannot recall any similar works exceeding this collection's ability to capture and maintain a reader's attention. I know there are numerous text books available on the period covered, however, I cannot think of a better way for students of the conflict to study the personalities involved than in these three novels. Like many other readers, I could not put them down, and many nights I fell asleep trying to finish one more chapter. I do not know what Jeff Shaara's next writing project will be, but I can honestly say I am waiting for it to be published, so I can continue to read his masterful story-telling.
on 14 July 1999
Only THE KILLER ANGELS and THE TRIUMPH AND THE GLORY can top Jeff Schaara's Civil War epic, THE LAST FULL MEASURE. Ultra-realistic, captivating theme, absorbing characters, accuracy, it has everything one could ask of a historical fiction novel