Friday, March 23, 2012

The Killer Angels - Michael Shaara

This guest review comes to us from Elizabeth Marsh, a friend of RFS reviewer Natalie.  Since I don't really know Elizabeth that well, I thought I'd turn the introductions over to Nat.  Here goes...

I'm thrilled to introduce you to Elizabeth Marsh! I met Elizabeth back in 2001 while we were training to be representatives for the LDS church in Austria. We hit it off really well and managed to keep each other sane during those crazy months. Elizabeth is now happily married and lives in Illinois with her husband and three children. She's a stay-at-home mom by day and a bibliophile by night who reads just about anything except self-help books. When she's not reading or taking care of her family, she teaches Zumba and R.I.P.P.E.D. classes a few days a week. She's also very interested in politics and has passed that interest (as well as her love for reading) to her oldest child, who enjoys watching presidential debates. (How cool is that?) I'm excited that Elizabeth is joining RFS today!

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Summary:  In the four most bloody and courageous days of our nation’s history, two armies fought for two conflicting 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. Bright futures, untested innocence, and pristine beauty were also the casualties of war. Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize–winning masterpiece is unique, sweeping, unforgettable—the dramatic story of the battleground for America’s destiny.  (Summary from book -- Image from www.swotti.com )

My Review: I am not a military strategist.  I don’t have the brain for tracking multiple, simultaneous battles, keeping all of the key players straight, and understanding the outcomes. (It probably didn’t help that my first experiences with Gettysburg came from Rhett and Scarlett’s reactions.)   Shaara humanized Gettysburg in a way I had never experienced.  I remember avidly studying each of the battles in high school, piece by piece, but it was so hard to reconcile those battles within a four-day timeframe. Shaara writes in such a way that acknowledges his reader’s familiarity with Gettysburg, but opens a new window into the fray – the hearts, wishes, and dreams of those fighting the battles.

I read The Killer Angels with my laptop next to me so that I could double check my faulty memory as to who the characters were, where they fought, and what sides they were on. (High school history was a LONG time ago.)  I became obsessed with the decisions, wept with the characters at their heartaches and fears, felt their exhilaration and single-minded focus during battle, and marveled at how intricately Shaara had woven his story.  It seemed to me that for the myriad characters he portrays, every single one was fighting for a different reason – each had cast the war in his own light.  The dusty names we all know became human.

It surprised me to find out that this was the basis for the movie Gettysburg (because, apparently, I live in a cave!).  After staying up until much too late to finish it, I woke up this morning with a burning desire to rent the movie, book a trip to Gettysburg again, and read the book to my family as we travel.

My Rating:  4.5 stars.  Almost five, but there were a lot of incomplete sentences, and it lost its artistic feel after a while.

For the Sensitive Reader:  There is battle and blood, along with the aftermath, but it’s masterfully handled.  The language is largely mild, but there are a few instances of the Lord’s name being taken in vain.

Sum it up:  Read it.  Soon.  And then book a trip to Gettysburg and read it again!

4 comments:

MindySue said...

Great review, Elizabeth! Thank you!

Lindsey said...

I read this book in high school. We had a really excellent history teacher who loved the Civil War. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

Natalie said...

How did I miss this? Great review Elizabeth!! I'd have to have a laptop nearby to keep things sorted out as well.

Jack Durish said...

Don't feel inadequate, Elizabeth, that you have a hard time following battles and tactics. Indeed, I have been trained as an infantry officer, am a Vietnam War vet, and known many others, and none of us really masters it. Battle is organized chaos and no one illustrates that better than Jeff Shaara. I have read just about everything written on the Civil War. I've visited many of the battle sites, including several visits to Gettysburg (it is truly a beautiful, unlikely place for such savagery). Your review is excellent and your recommendations spot on.

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