Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Day 90: Michael Shaara's THE KILLER ANGELS

My parents claim that I was always interested in history.  After all, I once read a biography of Robert E. Lee while everyone else at a party watched Return of the Jedi and that's why I didn't see Star Wars until I was 13.  Or so the story goes.  I did enjoy reading books about World War II or the American Revolution.  Growing up in Massachusetts meant I lived around the corner from a place where George Washington's army camped and I went to high school down the street from where the Battle of Lexington and Concord took place.

Somehow, I got to seventh grade without studying much about the Civil War.  I never finished that book about General Lee, so when Mom invited me to see Gettysburg, I asked what it was about.  My friend and I cried through half of the movie because we were thirteen and overcome with respect for the historical figures and the impossible things asked of them.

Since then, I've been a bit of a Civil War nut.  I've been to a few battlefields, read a lot of books, watched movies and even had Robert E. Lee of Virginia as my second mission president.  (Not by choice.  But his predecessor used to say that "You can throw those planners away.  The South will never rise again" and he was succeeded by President Lee.  We didn't let President Bennett live that one down.)  One morning, a friend came over and confessed that she'd forgotten to prepare for her history presentation on the Battle of Gettysburg.  I drew her a few diagrams, gave her the relevant details, told her where to find Ken Burns' documentary and watched her presentation later that day.

The Killer Angels tells the story of that tremendous battle in as unbiased a way as possible.  Or rather, it tells it from the perspective of everyone.  We have Lee, Longstreet, Armistead, Hancock, Chamberlain, Pickett and so on.  It is so thoroughly written that you almost believe that Shaara is a time-traveler instead of a convincing historical fictionist.

There are a few dubious points that are in contention and one or two characters who simply did not exist, but that is the price you pay for the depth of the story.

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