"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Thursday, April 18, 2024


Killer Angels by Michael Shaara

Book Beginning quote:

Friday56 quote:

Summary: The Battle for Gettysburg was the pivotal battle of the American Civil War. For four days in July 1863, the Union and Confederate troops fought over a hill overlooking the small town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Killer Angels is a novel of this famous battle, giving life to characters. Author Michael Shaara said his aim was to tell "what it was like to be there, what the weather was like, what men's faces looked like."
For this purpose he stayed within the historical record, but blended two fictional approaches: a careful expository description of strategy and tactics, aided by a series of eloquent maps, and a graphic evocation of the clashes themselves, wherein it is shown how the small happenings, the human elements and chance occurrences confound the plans of the greatest chiefs. The blurred, obscure, smoke‐covered meetings continually mock the higher strategies. (NYT Review of Books, May 10, 1975)
The result was a story which becomes real and human to its readers. In the course of the book readers primarily follow three men: Colonel Chamberlain, of the Union Army; General James (“Pete”) Longstreet, of the Confederate Army; and General Robert E. Lee, of the Confederate Army. They will also wander around with Union cavalry General John Buford, Confederate General George Pickett, and a few others. The battle is fought and won/lost but at great cost to all the individuals involved.

Review: During a recent road trip my husband and I listened to the audio version of Killer Angels, read by Stephen Hoye. I was interested in the book for two reasons. First, Killer Angels won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1975. Very slowly I am making my way through past winners. Secondly, years ago a teacher at the school where I was the librarian came to me and told me that Killer Angels was the most amazing book he'd ever read. I assured him I would read it some day, and now I have. I guessed my husband, who attended West Point after high school and spent 37 years in the military, would enjoy the book, too. Listening to the audiobook together was a good choice. Stephen Hoye did an exceptional job reading the story, building up the tension preceding the battles to a perfect pitch. His accents for the both the Southern Generals and for the Maine men were spot-on and led to an even more personalized experience with the text. Even though I knew who won the battle historically, every time we stopped listening, I wanted to get back to it as soon as possible to find out how things worked out. I'm fairly sure this audiobook will win my favorite audiobook of the year award.

The title, "Killer Angels", came from a speech made by Col. Joshua Chamberlain to his men prior to the battle. He took the quote from Shakespeare's Hamlet: “Well, boy, if he’s an angel, he’s sure a murderin’ angel”. This inspired Chamberlain oration topic: Man, the Killer Angel. 

The introduction to the audiobook was written and read by Jeff Shaara, Michael's son, on the 30th anniversary of the publication of the book. Jeff remembers going to Gettysburg as a child and walking the hallowed grounds with his father. That family trip led Michael to spend the next eight years writing his historical novel. It was rejected by many publishers but finally a small printing company, McKay, decided to publish the book in 1974. They didn't do much publicity and the book didn't sell well, probably related the state of unrest in the country related to the Vietnam War which was still going at the time. It surprised everyone when Killer Angels won the Pulitzer Prize in the 1975, but still sales were slow. However, the award brought the book to the attention of a Hollywood movie producer who expressed interest in making a movie from it. Shaara worked with this producer for years and was very excited about the project. Unfortunately he died from a heart attack before the movie went into production. When the movie came out in 1993 it was named "Gettysburg" and though it was very long, over 4 hours, it was well received. The result it had on the book was astonishing. Eighteen years after the book was published, Killer Angels made the New York Times Best Seller List. Jeff Shaara was sad that his father, who had worked so hard on the novel, never got to experience all of its success. Jeff went on to write a prequel and sequel to the book and several other historical novels about US wars.

I don't often read books about battles in wars, but I do enjoy reading good historical fiction. Killer Angels may very well be the best of the bunch. And my husband, what did he think of the book? He enjoyed it, too. He has been to Gettysburg three times, once with me and our daughters in tow, and he found that experience to be very moving every visit. Several times while we were listening he would stop the narration to explain some aspect of the battle to me, or describe the geography and the location of the armies. He sends along his recommendation, too.

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