23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on 10 April 2010
I grew up just an hour from the beautiful countryside that is Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. As a child and young adult I had visited the battlefield there on numerous school trips and family outings. But it wasn't until I read Killer Angels that those familiar landmarks (Little and Big Round Top, Devils Den, etc), came to represent the human cost of one of the bloodiest battles in American History.
Killer Angels gives us the key players, the Confederate and Union Officers, that made the crucial decisions and/or had to carry them out. The story provides the reader with a sense of the professional and personal motivations behind their decisions and the interpersonal relationships that existed not just between officers in the same army, but relationships that had existed between officers on the opposing side.
Michael Shaara manages to provide a vivid account of the Battle of Gettysburg that never takes sides. He simply unfolds the three days and leaves his readers to witness the carnage that results. This is an extremely well written book which makes it a pleasure to read. The difficulty comes in managing the fact that this "story" is based on real events resulting in unimaginable human loss and devastation.
An excellent book...
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 3 April 2003
This is a fascinating and well-written book, and it formed the basis of a fascinating and well-made, if somewhat under-rated, film (“Gettysburg”). The battle of Gettysburg in 1863 is often seen as a turning point of the American Civil War and its climax in Pickett’s Charge on the battle’s third day has become known as “the high-water mark of the Confederacy”. There is truth in this although things were rather more complicated – it was, after all, a vast and complicated war.
For many historians the main lesson to be drawn from Gettysburg is what happens when a general comes to believe that he and his army are unbeatable. The battle had its fair share of good and bad luck, and good and bad judgements, on both sides, but it seems clear that Robert E. Lee, Confederate commander and one of the best generals of the war, fought a battle he did not need to fight in a way that favoured the other side, and to all intents and purposes facilitated the Union victory.
The book reads well as a novel, as an account of men in battle, and as piece of history that seems to stick closely to the facts (though naturally not covering all of them).
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 15 March 2006
This Pulitzer Prize winning novel retells the Battle of Gettysburg (Pennsylvania) from the viewpoints of the major participants, both North and South. It falls into the category of historical fiction and is based on well researched facts, to be precise *seven* years of research and writing revisions (as stated on the jacket cover). It depicts actual events with the imagination of the author filling in the feelings and thoughts of General Robert E. Lee, Colonel Chamberlain, Buford, Longstreet, Ewell, Pickett, Armistead, during key positions and outcomes of this most important battle during the American Civil War. Highly acclaimed by both, Gen. H. Norman Schwartzkopf and film maker Ken Burns, this book deserves a wider reading audience.
Similar to "All Quiet on the Western Front" and "Red Badge of Courage", the reader is given a first hand account of what it is like to have lived through this major historical turning point of the war. What otherwise would be dry, cold hard facts becomes a living event, felt and experienced in all of its glory, gory details, and sadness. Human emotions, hope, longing, courage, deprivation, fatigue, love, loyalty, regrets and faith in God are clearly shown. Anyone who wants to learn more about the Civil War but was hesitant should read this book. It makes history come alive. I was so capitvated, I bought the prequel and sequel, written by the author's son, Jeff Shaara, who continued the writing tradition started by his late father. One readily appreciates how fragile a gift is freedom and democracy, not to be taken for granted. The United States as a nation underwent one of the most tragic events in its history ... to maintain unity and integrity ... this should never be forgotten.
Erika Borsos (bakonyvilla)
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 20 September 2004
This Pulitzer Prize winning novel retells the Battle of Gettysburg (Pennsylvania) from the viewpoints of the major participants, both North and South. It falls into the category of historical fiction and is based on well researched facts, to be precise *seven* years of research and writing revisions (as stated on the jacket cover). It depicts actual events with the imagination of the author filling in the feelings and thoughts of General Robert E. Lee, Colonel Chamberlain, Buford, Longstreet, Ewell, Pickett, Armistead, during key positions and outcomes of this most important battle during the American Civil War. Highly acclaimed by both, Gen. H. Norman Schwartzkopf and filmaker Ken Burns, this book deserves a wider reading audience.
Similar to "All Quiet on the Western Front" and "Red Badge of Courage", the reader is given a first hand account of what it is like to have lived through this major historical turning point of the war. What would otherwise be dry, cold hard facts becomes a living event, felt and experienced in all of its glory, gory details, and sadness. The human emotions of hope, longing, courage, deprivation, fatigue, love, loyalty, regrets and faith in God is clearly shown. Anyone who wants to learn more about the Civil War but was hesitant ... should read this book, which makes history come alive. I was so capitvated, I bought the sequels, written by the author's son, Jeff Shaara, who continued the writing tradition started by his late father. One readily appreciates how fragile a gift is freedom and democracy, it is not to be taken for granted. The United States as a nation underwent one of the most tragic events in its history ... to maintain unity and integrity ... this should never be forgotten.
Erika Borsos (bakonyvilla)
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
This book came out during a period when I had no time to read. Then when the time came along, it was next to impossible to find a copy. I finally did track one down and was blown away. I adore Scottish History, but since I was raised part time in the States, I grew to love the complexities of the Civil War (in the South US it's called the War Between the States). The reasons for the war, the motivation for people to fight their neighbour, often their own brother or family members was mesmerising. Bruce Catton gave me such insight into all the factors through his marvellous works, so I thought no writer could touch him in making you feel, see and understand the men, the generals, the affect the Civil War had on a nation.
However, a writer did, and oddly enough with fiction. Michael Shaara won a Pulitzer Prize for the moving work that focuses on the one pivotal battle, the high-water mark of the War Between the States. He gives you the frustration of men driven to kill their brothers, of the futility, the waste. Centring on Lee, floundering at the loss of his right hand Jackson, of being cut off from screening and blind without information because Stuart was on one of his glory rides, of one general who could not follow orders, of another, Longstreet, who followed them to the letter knowing he was sending his 'boys' to their death in the glorious, yet ultimately disastrous Pickett's charge.
But it through Col. J.L. Chamberlain where Shaara succeeds the most, in giving you the humanity, the nightmare, the pathos, of the men of 20th Maine regiment, volunteers who held the Union's left flank on the second day of the battle at Little Round Top.
The book is so moving, so touching that it makes you view the war in a way you never have before. If only, he had included Captain James Hall of the 2nd Maine Battery...
This was turned into the wonderful film GETTYSBURG, which I also recommend highly with some truly memorable performances. However, be sure to read the book as well, for you will never forget the beautiful prose of Shaara.
Also recommended are Jeff Shaara his son's books that form a trilogy with Gods and General the prequel and The Last Full Measure the Ending.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 6 October 2006
After visiting the Gettysburg battle site on an excellent trip to America, I was thrilled when I learnt that a film had recently been released (Gettysburg). After watching the emotional and incredible visual accounts of Chamberlain's Defence of Little Round Top and Pickett's Charge, I was eager to discover where the accounts of the Leaders and soldiers came from. Then I found out about 'The Killer Angels' on which the film had been based. I opened straight to the first chapter and read some of the best descriptions of characters and locations of any great book. Time after time the book lived up to my expectations as I read cover to cover in two days not being able to put it down. This book has influenced the way I look at the American Civil War, although beware that the characyer's thoughts and dialogue is fictional and not historical although the accounts of events are taken from letters and memoirs.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
The author brings the Battle of Gettysburg and the Civil War to life in this wonderful novel. He uses the alternating views from the officers of both sides of the conflict, thus making you feel as you are right with them, culminating in the horrific and tragic end of the battle.
There is a whole lot more to the tale than you remember from our history lessons in school (public schools = nothing much learned), and I was truly saddened by the incredible loss of life due to the mistakes of the priveleged few, the generals. No wonder they say Gettysburg is one of the most haunted places in America.
Highly recommended, an entertaining read and an excellent history lesson in the bargain.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 13 May 2006
I've written several reviews for Amazon panning books I don't like so I thought I'd better write one about a book I do thoroughly recommend. I came to this book knowing Gettysburg was important but not much else. It worked for me on several different levels.
First, it was a brilliantly clear and concise account of the fighting; I have tried reading some of the history books on the subject since and I can see that Shaara probably tied things up a bit but whose account do I have in mind as I write this, Shaara's or the "real" historians' version? No contest, Shaara wins hands-down. Did he "rewrite" history? I am sure he did to some extent - for example, in reading a "real" history I was surprised by how little mention there was of Joseph Chamberlain who is one of the heroes of the novel. Do I care? Not much.
Second, the insights into the commanders who were there. As a study in human strengths and frailties it is one of the best things I have ever read (the only historian I have read who is on a par is John Keegan). These men were humans, not supermen and seeing things through tired eyes and minds was so much superior to a dry historical explanation of units manoeuvring around a map. The scenes between Lee and Longstreet on the second and third day are absorbing as the arguments ebb and flow. (And if, like me, you desperately wanted Longstreet to prevail then get yourself a copy of Newt Gingrich's book; you won't be disappointed.) The description of Pickett's Charge has stayed with me and is so familiar from descriptions of First World War battles.
Third, the clever way Shaara brings in the different opinions about the Civil War either through Freemantle listening the discussion at the CSA camp or Chamberlain recalling an uncomfortable dinner with pro-southerners before the war started. For someone with little reading in the area it was pitched at an ideal level.
No review of mine would be complete without a few minor quibbles and this time it is one or two of the minor characters. Buster Kilrain must be one of the most one-dimensional characters ever (the only way he could be more stereotypical is if he said "Begorrah" a lot and kept Guinness in his hip flask. It's also frustrating that the superb description of the viewpoint and motivation of a few commanders leaves so many others still in the dark. What WAS Ewell thinking about on the first evening? (Gingrich's book is better on this than Shaara's, I think) And where is AP Hill coming from??? And it would have been nice to see the battle through the eyes of a CSA regiment, to balance the account of Chamberlain's regiment. Of course, that would have made the book longer but when it's this good, who cares?
Overall, this book would be cheap at twice the price. I can read it over and over again. Thoroughly recommended.
I agree with other reviewers that if you enjoy this you will also enjoy Jeff Shaara's prequel and sequel, as well as the film "Gettysburg". And if you don't know the battlefield already, go to the PBASE photo website and type "Gettysburg" into the search engine to give you some excellent snaps of how the area looks today.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
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.
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on 4 September 2008
Actually bought this when visiting Gettysburg but wished I had read it beforehand.
Described as "a Novel" it takes real people and real events but spins them into a series of individual stories. While this might sound clumsy it works well and with the clear maps the reader has a good understanding of a dramatic story about which (if they are from the UK), they may know little. In fact a British reader may have the advantage over Americans in that the story is fresh and they wont know the outcome. For Americans the characters and stories are very well known.
Col. Freemantle, the real life British observer (though in fact he was basically a tourist) is well drawn without the caricatures or anti-Brtish bias sometimes seen.
The book formed the basis of the film Gettysburg which is also good though the acting and stick on beards (and its enormous length) make it more one for the enthusiast. (Also in the film Col. Freemantle becomes a red coated, tea drinking, toff.)