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"Write out of love, write out of instinct, write out of reason. But always for money."
Louis Untermeyer

The Killer Angels

By Michael Shaara
A Ballantine Book, 355 pp, 1974

This novel has become a classic since its publication in 1974. Considered by many the best novel about the Civil War, and even the best war novel, The Killer Angels was, I think, the basis for TNT's Gettysburg, which came out several years ago. As a history buff, I looked forward to reading it.

Generally, I liked it, but not for the reasons the novel is famous. As a war novel, it lacks the gritty and close action of war. The only actual war scenes are Chamberlain's stand on Little Round Top and the last day charge up Cemetery Hill. The rest of the novel is told from the perspective of the generals, such as Lee and Longstreet, and Chamberlain (though he's a colonel). Because of this device, we see few real battles, because the generals are rarely in them. Instead, we get deep ruminations and reflections about war, with some talk of strategy and tactics, but not enough to suit my taste. The battles occur during all this ponderous navel-gazing. It makes for, at times, a boring book.

That being said, the navel-gazing is insightful and based on written accounts of the participants. Shaara did his homework, and it shows. He provides a fascinating glimpse into the thoughts and feelings of the men who lead a war.

That's why I liked it, though it must be said that the few battle scenes are quite good. Chamberlain is a fascinating character, and I think I'll read more about him.

Michael's son Jeff has continued the tradition, authoring a sequel and prequel to this book, in addition to novels about the Mexican-American War and the Revolutionary War. I think I'll try those, and see if the son is worthy of the father.

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