Shaara’s Killer Angels

Killer Angels, Michael Shaara

The book that really started my obsession with the civil war.  A novel about the battle at Gettysburg told from the perspective of a commanders from both the Union and Confederate sides. A stunning work. I’m generally not a fan of military history, I could care less about troop movements and tactical decisions. There’s always something a bit macabre, I think, in treating battles as if they were football games. Analyzing the most efficient way to kill men generally leaves a bad taste in my mouth, so I generally stay away from military history and historical novels set during war.

But this book is different. Yes, there is quite a bit of discussion of the mechanics of the battle, but those tactical sections are grounded by the time Shaara spends developing Lee, Chamberlain, Longstreet, Buford, and their men as complex, compelling characters. The scenes of Chamberlain and his men holding the line against a confederate attack, and suffering horrific losses in the process, left me in, no joke, in tears, as did the penultimate scene of scores of confederate soldiers run to their deaths in Picket’s charge.

The civil war was a bloody, awful, horrific thing. This book does not sugar coat it. Though perhaps it does glorify the violence and sacrifice.  I dare you to come away from this book not admiring Chamberlain for his bravery, or loathing Lee for his horrific politics, belief in human bondage and arrogance.  Still and all, though it may wallow a bit in the glory of war, it’s still well worth your time. Not just one of the best novels written about the civil war, one of the best books written about it, period.

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