Book review – ‘The Killer Angels’ by Michael Shaara

Whe I was about eleven my parents, realising that I was a precocious brat when it came to reading, let me stick my nose in whatever reading matter took my fancy.  A battered copy of ‘The Red Badge of Courage’ was all it took to spark a life-long interest in the American Civil War – an interest which influenced my Masters program and a lot of reading since.  Shaara’s book focuses on the pivotal battle of the war – Gettysburg and is one of the most grippingly written yet movingly human pieces of writing I’ve ever come across.  I’m not in the least bit surprised it won the Pulitzer Prize.

Whether they’re weraing blue or grey/butternut, the characters live and breathe in the mind’s eye.  Lee, Longstreet, Buford and my personal hero (Chamberlain) all spring to vivid life.  For the history buff, 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
KillerAngels.jpgsides, 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).

 

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