BOOK REVIEWS

by Sandy Cornish

 

Book Review Gods and Generals published Published July, 1996
Author: Jeff Shaara

Hawthorne Book Review  February 20, 2006

I read this book before I read Killer Angels. I’d recommend reading it first because it is a prelude to the Battle of Gettysburg. The third book in the trilogy, The Last Measure, is post-Gettysburg to the end of the Civil War.

With today’s situation with troops in several trouble spots in the world, I was able to relate several personality profiles in the book to our current history. Do we ever learn from history?

Some fought for political reasons; others for personal limelight; some for the “cause” they perceived the fight was about. Many were classmates at West Point.

One important aspect of this book is to remember it is historical fiction. That having been said, I would highly recommend it to get to know the men who fought so bravely on both sides.

He follows the lives of four men in the turbulent days leading up to the Civil War until just before the Battle of Gettysburg: Thomas Jackson, Robert E. Lee, Winfield Scott Hancock and Joshua Chamberlain.

We learn about their families, their homes, their jobs, and their lives because answering the call to war. He includes glances of some of the best known soldiers and civilians of the Civil War Era, including John Brown, JEB Stuart, McClellan, Burnside, Longstreet and Hooker.

If you’ve read other stories of Civil War, you can compare what you already know with the characters in this book. If you’ve never read any other story, this is a great place to start to learn details of the families of war heroes.


 

Book Review The Killer Angels Published 1974

Author: Michael Shaara, Jeff’s father

I think this a good historical fiction book that allows the reader to BE at Gettysburg. He is a great writer that allows you to feel the heat, feel the dust adding to the heat on the skin, see the geography of the land, see and smell the death all around, hear the sounds of battle. You know what they eat or experience their hunger.

You get details of their clothing, shoes, horses, and all the sensual minutiae that allow you to LIVE within the battle. He appeals to the senses. You hear, see, feel, smell, and taste the Battle of Gettysburg.

Your emotions range from anger to sadness to joy to frustration to disbelief during various parts of the book. He writes as I taught Creative Writing students to write: he SHOWS the action instead of TELLING about it. At the end, I was emotionally exhausted, but I couldn’t put it down.
 
 He does a wonderful job with characterization, trying to get into the minds of the men who make major decisions.
 
 The “cause” of the war is debated many times, as one of the themes of the book. The north and the rest of the world thinks it’s slavery, but the southerners who fight think it’s about states’ rights.
 
 I highly recommend the book even though the author sometimes shows a prejudice in making Longstreet correct and Lee the scapegoat in being tired, weak, and sick. I think nothing is black and white and some of his suppositions are hindsight rather than reality. After you read it, let me know what you think.
 
 I think he’s a much stronger writer than his son, Jeff, and he certainly doesn’t use as many commas! 

The Last Full Measure published in June, 1998

Author Jeff Shaara

This is the third in the Civil War Trilogy. It begins post-Gettysburg, and the rest of the war is seen through major characters. Each chapter is named for a person: Lee, Chamberlain, Grant, Sheridan, etc.

It was Chamberlain the hero at Five Forks who said, "God would demand the last full measure of the men" to crush the rebellion. Chamberlain would join with Crawford and Griffin on the right flank of Pickett while Sheridan would hold the left flank; the causalities were enormous.

It portrays the politics of war, how President Davis came under media attack and isolated himself in Richmond, far from knowing the true nature of the battles.

Jeff Shaara brings you to the battlefield once again, allowing you to hear the sounds, see the action, feel the emotions, and shake your head at some of the barbarism and cruelty of some leaders who sacked and burned innocent folks’ homes and businesses.

From other books I’ve read about the Civil War, his depiction of battles, maps, and events are pretty accurate. In switching from North to South, from major to minor character, he keeps the reader involved in the events.

I noticed a minor character named Wolford, and smiled, wondering if that was Jim’s relative. He took up only half a page, but this is Mr. Shaara’s was of bringing in more than just the officers.

I’d highly recommend the trilogy.

 
BIOGRAPHY

Michael Shaara was born in Jersey City in 1929, the son of Italian immigrants (it was originally spelled "Sciarra") He graduated from Rutgers University in 1951, and his early short stories were science fiction published in Galaxy Magazine in 1952. He later began writing straight fiction, and eventually published more than 70 short stories in such magazines as Playboy, Redbook, Cosmopolitan, The Saturday Evening Post, and many others. He moved with his family to Florida in the mid-1950's, where he taught English, literature and creative writing at Florida State University in Tallahassee, and continued to write short stories.
 
He achieved critical success with his first novel The Broken Place in 1968, but it was a commercial disappointment. Michael Shaara grew to be an adventurous young man. Over the years, he found work as a sailor, a paratrooper, and a policeman. Michael's interest in Gettysburg was prompted by some letters written by his great-grandfather, who had been wounded at the great battle while serving with the 4th Georgia Infantry.

In 1966, he took his family on a vacation to the battlefield and found himself moved.
 
In 1970, Michael Shaara returned to Gettysburg with his son Jeff.

The pair crisscrossed the historic site, gathering detailed information for the father's novel-in-progress. The Killer Angels took 7 years to write. His late nights of writing, cigarettes and coffee, and his deep involvement with his story of Gettysburg took a toll. In 1965 he suffered a major heart attack, at only 36 years of age. It was rejected by the first 15 publishers who saw the manuscript, but was finally bought by a small independent publisher in 1973.  It won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1975, but still never enjoyed commercial success. It has sold over 2 million copies and is still being sold today over 30 years after he won the Pulitzer. Interest in the Civil War is gaining with reenactments.
 
The Battle of Gettysburg was fought in 1863, 143 years ago. When Michael Shaara died in 1988, his son Jeff began to manage his literary estate. It was a legacy he knew well, having helped his father create it. When director Ron Maxwell filmed the movie Gettysburg, based on The Killer Angels, he asked Jeff to serve as a consultant. Maxwell encouraged Shaara to continue the story his father began; inspired, Jeff planned an ambitious trilogy, with The Killer Angels as the centerpiece, following the war from its origins to its end.

After suffering the effects of a terrible motorcycle accident, Shaara struggled to maintain the quality of his writing, and published one last novel The Noah Conspiracy in 1981. He then completed a baseball manuscript but did not find a publisher. Shaara suffered his second heart attack and died, on May 5, 1988, after a long and often frustrating writing career. The baseball manuscript was published posthumously as "For Love of the Game".

BIOGRAPHY

Jeff Shaara was born in 1952 in New Brunswick, New Jersey. He spent his early life in Tallahassee, Florida, and graduated from Florida State University in 1974 with a degree in Criminology.

For many years he was a professional dealer in rare coins. He owned his own business in Tampa, Florida, until his father's death in 1988, when he sold the company in order to devote himself to managing his father's literary estate.

His commitment to his father's work resulted in the posthumous publication of For Love of the Game, a baseball novel written by Michael Shaara several years before his death.
Film director Ron Maxwell, a long-time friend of Michael Shaara, worked for many years to bring The Killer Angels to the big screen. In 1992, Ted Turner gave the go-ahead on the project.

Maxwell wrote the screenplay and directed the film now known to millions as "Gettysburg." Following the great success of this film, Maxwell approached Jeff Shaara with the suggestion to continue his father's work by writing a prequel to The Killer Angels.

So in 1994, Jeff began researching the history of the characters his father had brought to life so vividly in The Killer Angels. In 1996, Ballantine Books published Jeff's prequel, Gods and Generals.

Now Jeff has completed the trilogy with the sequel to The Killer Angels: The Last Full Measure
 
Jeff Shaara and his wife, Lynne, divide their time between Missoula, Montana, and New York City.

With The Last Full Measure, Jeff Shaara sustains a major achievement that distinguishes this trilogy from most other Civil War novels: He gives a balanced experience of the temperament, sensibility, and character of generals on both sides of the battle lines. Shaara also proves once and for all that, though influenced by his father, he has a voice and talent all his own.
 
An interview with BookPage.
http://www.bookpage.com/9806bp/jeff_shaara.html

Return to Book Reviews Page 1

Return to Book Reviews Page 2

Go to Book Reviews Page 4

 

Return to Main Page