Monday, August 22, 2011

The Killer Angels

From the back cover:
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.
Wow. You know, I'm not much for war, but this was a brilliant book. I thought it would be boring; instead, it was the most engrossing thing I've read all year. Jon's been telling me to read it for ages - I should have listened to him a long time ago!

I hate war and I find the civil war so frustrating. Why? Why did so many people have to die? Why was the south so stubborn - claiming that their cause was so noble? They said it was their rights they were fighting for, but in hindsight, it was obviously just one right that caused the war: the right to own slaves. I don't consider myself an extreme feminist, but sometimes when I look at wars like this I think, honestly... put men in charge of the world and how do they solve their differences? swords, guns, cannons, and mass slaughter... someone doesn't agree with you? the solution is to go on a killing rampage until the only people left standing are the ones on your side.

Rant over.

Anyway, this book helped me understand not only the Battle of Gettysburg (which I now consider myself an expert on - the important generals, the landscape, the turning points, the big battles and charges - I know them all) but the entire war. I was there. Michael Shaara's writing is so present, so alive and descriptive that I understand the emotions, the politics, the sights and sounds and smells, and most importantly, the people. And the writing is clever, witty, and funny at times. Some of the conversations the men have are riotously funny. And some of the events brought me to tears. I was completely caught up in the drama of this important battle. I feel like I have a better understanding of why the war happened and the mentalities behind both sides. And I'll concede that it's not totally fair to generalize that it only happened because the people in charge were men. :D

This is a compelling novel. I especially loved the very personal stories of men from both sides. There were many who fought against each other who were friends or even brothers before the war. The civil war is a complex and tragic thing and I feel like studying it has been a fascinating study in human nature. One thing's for sure; this book is anything BUT boring.

And to top it all off, after reading it, I watched Gettysburg with Jon, the movie based on this book. It's incredible. The emotions from the book are all captured on film, which was done entirely on location with authentic re-enactment groups from all over the country as the hundreds of extras. If you've never seen it, I highly recommend it. And the music is incredible!!!

One other civil war related thing I watched after reading this book was an episode of American Experience (Jon's favorite tv show - shows what a cool history nerd I married :D) about General Robert E. Lee (which you can watch online here). Proof that General Lee maybe wasn't the perfectly pious grandfatherly figure he's portrayed as in the book. The Killer Angels, however well researched, is still a work of historical fiction after all. The facts and events are all correct, and many letters and journals were used to find specific dialogue, but most of the character's personalities were fictionalized.

So, I've been long-winded on this subject, haven't I? To sum up, this is a compelling book which helped me understand Gettysburg, the Civil War, and human nature better. I believe it fully deserved the Nobel Prize it won. If you haven't read it, put it on your to-read list.

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