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The Killer Angels: A Novel of the Civil War Hardcover – November 2, 2004
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From Library Journal
Michael T. Fein, Catawba Valley Community Coll., Hickory, N.C.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
More About the Author
Michael Shaara was born in 1928 in Jersey City, N.J., the son of Michael Joseph Shaara, Sr., an Italian immigrant and union organizer, and Allene (Maxwell) Shaara. He married Helen Elizabeth Krumwiede in 1950 (marriage which ended in 1980), and had two children: Jeffrey and Lila Elise. Shaara graduated from Rutgers University with a B.A. in 1951, and continued with graduate studies at Columbia University (1952-53) and University of Vermont (1953-54). He knew in college that he wanted to write for a living, and his short story career began in the 1950s, selling mainly science fiction and fantasy stories to the pulp fiction magazines as well as to Cosmopolitan, Galaxy, Fantastic Universe, Playboy, Redbook and the Saturday Evening Post, winning several awards. Shaara's themes reflected his times and dealt with everyday events, as well as with aliens, and the devastation of complete cities from nuclear disasters. In 1959, Shaara was hired as an instructor of English at Florida State University, and by 1968, he had risen to the position of Associate Professor.
Michael Shaara was teaching creative writing at Florida State University while writing his first novel, The Broken Place. Shaara had worked numerous odd jobs before becoming a teacher, including time spent as a merchant seaman and police officer. Under contract to deliver The Broken Place, the stress of the writing and teaching a full course load caused him to have a serious, nearly fatal heart attack. He was even pronounced dead while the ER doctors attempted to revive him. This near-death experience no doubt colored his writing of The Broken Place, as did his army experience (a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne during peace time), his amateur boxing career, and his marriage to his college sweetheart, Helen Elizabeth Krumwiede, the model for Lise Hoffman. The Broken Place was published to great literary acclaim--Shaara was often compared to Ernest Hemingway in the reviews--but few sales.
His second novel, The Rebel In Autumn, was based on an event at Florida State. Rebel was written during the campus protests of the late 1960s and is set in 1969. His agent began shopping the book in 1970, just a few short months before the Ohio National Guard shot into a crowd of student protesters at Kent State University, killing four, in an eerie echo of Rebel's climactic scene. And so the book never saw the light of day, although it is a beautifully written and artfully crafted novel, perhaps the equal of his next novel, The Killer Angels.
In 1972, while teaching an FSU abroad program in Italy, Shaara had a devastating motorcycle accident, leaving him unconscious for weeks. He suffered from a severe brain injury, and Shaara later said that his eyes were not "working together" and that he could not read very much. Shaara also had difficulty with both speech and thought patterns. Emotionally, he suffered from bouts of depression.
Shaara won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1975 for The Killer Angels, his second published novel, a brilliant portrayal of the Battle of Gettysburg. But even that was a struggle. It took Shaara years to research the book, even enlisting his then teenage son Jeff to crawl around under the brush at Gettysburg in order to find long-covered up markers. The Killer Angels was rejected by fifteen publishers before the small, independent, and long defunct David McKay Company purchased the manuscript. The Killer Angels was another critical success and commercial flop, as the public wasn't interested in war stories in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. It wasn't until five years after Shaara's death that The Killer Angels hit the bestseller lists, climbing all the way to #1 on The New York Times list.
It would be seven years before Shaara would publish another novel. The Herald came out in 1981 and hearkened back to Shaara's early career writing science fiction for magazines. The Herald is a very dark post-apocalyptic story, perhaps related to Shaara's continuing financial failures as a writer. The glimmer of hope at the end of the novel speaks to the spark that lurked beneath Shaara's misanthropic outlook. While it garnered some positive reviews, it was clear that The Herald was not going to find commercial success either.
A second heart attack killed Shaara in 1988 at the age of 59.
Shaara's first financially successful novel was published posthumously--For Love of the Game. The beloved baseball novel was quickly snapped up by the movies and made into a film with Kevin Costner playing the lead. But before Game came the movie "Gettysburg" directed by Ron Maxwell, financed by Ted Turner. Starring Martin Sheen as Robert E. Lee and Jeff Daniels as Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Sam Elliot and Tom Berenger among others. The movie was a hit, and turned the forgotten novel behind it--The Killer Angels--into a huge success. It is now required reading at many schools, including West Point, and is generally considered one of the greatest Civil War novels ever written.
With the publication of The Rebel in Autumn, and the release of The Broken Place, The Herald and For Love of the Game as ebooks, all the Shaara novels will now be available for the first time. The publication of Rebel is a major literary event--how often does a lost manuscript from a Pulitzer Prize winning author turn up...43 years after it was written and 25 years after its author's death?
Michael Shaara's son, Jeff Shaara, has taken up his father's mantle of writing historical fiction, writing bestselling novels of the Civil War, Mexican War, WWI and WWII, enjoying commercial success in his lifetime the way his father was never able to. Michael Shaara's daughter, Lila, also published two novels.
The Michael Shaara papers today reside at the Bienes Museum at the Broward County Public Library in Florida. http://www.broward.org/library/bienes/pages/bienesshaara.aspx
Top Customer Reviews
It is of no consequence that the prospective reader may not have the slightest interest in war, the Civil War in particular, guns, Gettysburg, generals, muskets, artillery, smoke, fire, or death. All the reader need be interested in is a good book that is a pleasure, an enlightening experience, to read. If you like reading, if you enjoy books that captivate, that keep you turning pages, that won't let you sleep, then buy this book.
Let me note here that the author indulges in several literary devices that might pain the true Civil War buff. He uses interior monologues which are, of course, pure fiction (though based on written material of the time). He also centers his story on two major fights that took place at Gettysburg: the battle of Little Roundtop, and Pickett's Charge, even though quite a lot of other great moments occurred there. Both these battles are told well, and the characters of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain - the commander of the 20th Maine who held Little Round Top against attacking Confederates to the "last bullet," and James Longstreet, commander of the I Corps of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia who had serious differences with his superior over the tactics used at Gettysburg, are explored at depth.
By necessity, Shaara could not tell, in a single novel (for that is what this book is), all that happened those three fateful days.Read more ›
What makes Killer Angels different is that each chapter is written through the eyes of the various leaders from both the Union and the Confederacy including Buford, Longstreet, Lee, Chamberlain, Armistead, as well as an English observer, Fremantle. Shaara used diaries, journals, letters and memoirs to recreate not only what was happening on the battlefield, but also, what these men were thinking, seeing and feeling. It's as if you're an eyewitness to history. Killer Angels does not attempt to cover every minute of the Battle of Gettysburg. In fact, Shaara focuses on four main aspects: Buford's establishing Union lines on good ground before the battle, Longstreet's ambivalence about fighting at Gettysburg, Joshua Chamberlain and the 20th Maine defending Little Round Top and Pickett's Charge.
I found myself especially haunted by James Longstreet. Once a carefree, amiable man, he's still reeling from the recent deaths of 3 of his 4 children in one week. Robert E. Lee's number two man, he knows that a frontal attack (Pickett's charge) will be disastrous. He is tortured that Lee won't listen to his advice, and inconsolable after so many men are killed. "Along with all the horror of loss, and the weariness, and all the sick helpless rage, there was coming now a monstrous disgust. He was through. They had all died for nothing and he sent them...The army would not recover from this day."
I also gained an appreciation for Joshua Chamberlain.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Great read, similar to "1776", that combines historical facts with novelization of characters.Published 1 day ago by PC
Michael Shaara succeeds in putting blood and flesh into the battle of Gettysburg. Historical figures become real in a manner only the best storytellers can achieve.Published 4 days ago by David E. Simmons
The outstanding treatment of the pivotal battle of Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1963. History should always be so well presented.Published 8 days ago by Dcfre
I love historical fiction and this work is so quick moving and never lags and the history is correct too.Published 8 days ago by James Miller
I picked up this book very randomly, it's not the type of book I generally read. And I really don't have any interest at all in American history. Read morePublished 9 days ago by John Horgan
It has been awhile since I read this book, but I recall enjoying it and learning a lot about the battle of Gettysburg.Published 15 days ago by Sarah A. Bradford
My husband purchased this book and read it. he seemed to enjoy it as he did not put it down until he finished it. I cannot really give his honest opinion.Published 17 days ago by Shari L Garbez