Friday, November 14, 2014

Book Review of The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara

In the four most bloody and courageous days of our nation's history, two armies fought for two dreams. One dreamed of freedom, the other of a way of life. Far more than rifles and bullets were carried into battle. There were memories. There were promises. There was love. And far more than men fell on those Pennsylvania fields. Shattered futures, forgotten innocence, and crippled beauty were also the casualties of war.The Killer Angels is unique, sweeping, unforgettable—a dramatic re-creation of the battleground for America's destiny. 

The Killer Angels, written by Michael Shaara and first published in 1974, is a work of historical fiction and details the lives of the soldiers in the Civil War and also the four days battle: the Battle of Gettysburg. This book has been hailed as “The best Civil War novel ever written…” by author Stephen B. Oates. Rightfully so, Killer Angels received the Pulitzer Prize in 1975 and today, there are over 2.5 million copies in print. I rated this book a 4/5 stars. This novel contained great imagery and the characters were amazing, it just got a little boring at times.

Michael Shaara’s purpose for writing Killer Angels was one many readers can appreciate. He wanted to show the readers what it was like to actually be in the war. “Stephen Crane once said that he wrote The Red Badge of Courage because reading the cold history was not enough; he wanted to know what it was like to be there, what the weather was like, what the men’s faces looked like. In order to live it he had to write it. This book was written for much the same reason.” (Shaara, preface) Shaara’s writing purpose is one many readers can appreciate, myself being one of them. When I read a novel, I want to be in the novel. This is the main reason why I enjoyed Killer Angels. 

The format of the Killer Angels really added to the experience of reading it. In Killer Angels, every chapter was titled by a soldier’s name, and the chapter detailed the experience of that character. This set up made the characters come to life and kept them from being one dimensional. The informality and sharpness of Shaara’s writing also set the tone for the whole novel. Shaara modified character’s original dialogue to make it a little more modernized, but without changing the meaning and without changing the ambiance of early American dialogue. This also makes the text easier to read and more entertaining, which I appreciated. Killer Angels is fractioned into four parts: Monday June 29th, 1863, Wednesday July 1st, 1863, Thursday July 2nd, 1863, and Friday July 3rd 1863. HISTORY FANS AM I RIGHT?

This formatting really gives the reader a feel for the setting and the actual mood for the Civil War and I thoroughly enjoyed it. As a reader, I also look for parts of novels that contain deeper meanings. Under the titles of these four parts, there was a little quote. I put these quotes together, and they read: “My eyes have seen the glory… Of the coming of the Lord… He hath loosed the fateful lightning… Of his terrible swift sword.” (1, 75, 161, 289). These quotations turned out to be lyrics to a Union battle hymn sung during the Civil War. This hymn was also sung at the funeral of American Presidents Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon and also the funeral of Robert Kennedy. I found this to be absolutely amazing. WAS THIS NOT THE COOLEST THING EVER??

Accompanied with the strange song lyrics, I also really enjoyed the maps that are contained spontaneously throughout the text. The maps showed where all the troops were and led to my further connection to the characters, as if I was actually there with them. The format of Shaara’s Killer Angels really helped me connect to the story line and also made me thoroughly enjoy the novel.

The setting of the book takes place in four separate days in 1863: June 29thJuly 1stJuly 2nd, and July 3rd. These four days detail both the Union and the Confederate soldiers journeys leading up to the Battle of Gettysburg. The characters in Killer Angels are what make the story what it is. Shaara’s depiction of famous war heroes, such as General Robert E. Lee really give the reader a feel for what the men had to go through. Shaara depicted men from all different walks of war, including colonels, generals, soldiers, Englishman, and even spies. The characterization of Killer Angels was entertaining and also helped me to develop my idea of the entire theme of the novel; comrades divided. I say this was the theme because of one main idea that is referenced throughout the whole novel: the power of friendship. I found the theme to be something quite this simple due to the powerful characters and profound meanings of the dialogue. Shaara’s characterization was compelling and moving and showed me the true power of friendship. I know it sounds a little cliché, but that is what I interpreted. 

     “It was more of a family than an army” (58). General Longstreet describing his Confederate       Army. 

There were many quotes just like this that I found to be both compelling and amusing: 

     “Let me welcome you to Lee’s Miserables” (60). Lew Armistead describing the Confederate Army. 

The characterization in Shaara’s Killer Angels led me to come to the conclusion that Shaara’s writing was based on the importance of relationships and friendships in life. This is something everyone can connect to, which is why the book was so successful. 

Being a huge history geek, I truly enjoyed this book. It missed one star due to how boring it got sometimes, but overall it was a fantastic book. Any of you history nerds out there, you better get goin! 

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