The Killer Angels

By Michael Shaara,

Book cover of The Killer Angels: The Classic Novel of the Civil War

Book description

“My favorite historical novel . . . a superb re-creation of the Battle of Gettysburg, but its real importance is its insight into what the war was about, and what it meant.”—James M. McPherson
In the four most bloody and courageous days of our nation’s history, two armies fought for…

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Why read it?

9 authors picked The Killer Angels as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

In Shaara’s telling we learn the intellectual and spiritual grounding by which men lead themselves to give “their last full measure.” If a book of brilliant conversations between a New England academic commanding officer and an uneducated Irish immigrant top sergeant does not explain the choice to you then you may never learn it.  

Perhaps it is most simply put in the title which comes from a conversation between the two men. The professor from Bowdoin College says simply, “Man is an angel.” To wit his British-trained top sergeant responds, “Colonel, darlin’, if man is an angel he is a…

From Sam's list on the measure of a man.

Killer Angels is perhaps one of the better-known Civil War books. It is told from multiple points of view in both the Confederate and Union armies, and in that way, brings to dramatic life all three days of the battle of Gettysburg. Shaara’s novel is peopled almost exclusively by historical personages and so blends history and fiction in an extraordinarily readable form. It is also important to note that Killer Angels is the best fictional study we have of what is quite probably the most important battle in American history. 

This most lyrical of war novels beautifully reveals what drives men to face death for a cause and manages that while ratcheting up the action and drama of the greatest battle ever fought on American soil. To me, Shaara is the gold standard of historical fiction authors and he populates The Killer Angels with memorable characters, both real and fictional. The better-known soldiers such as Lee and Longstreet are there at Gettysburg, but the true hero of this story is an obscure former professor from Bowdoin College, Joshua Chamberlain, who knows exactly what he’s fighting for. Colonel Chamberlain and his…

This amazing Civil War novel blew me away. The viewpoints shift between the men and leaders on both the Union and Confederate sides. Friends facing friends across a battlefield. Moral dilemmas abound. What does it feel like to be in the heat of battle? This novel personalized the Battle of Gettysburg by diving into the hopes and dreams of the men who fought and died there. I can see why it won the Pulitzer Prize. Fantasy readers in particular will appreciate the battle scenes, but also the tactics and, as I seem to mention a lot in these notes, the…

Killer Angels is considered a must-read of American Civil War historical fiction, focusing on four different officers (Longstreet and Lee for the South and Buford and Chamberlain for the North) over the course of the Battle of Gettysburg. Gettysburg is widely considered the turning point of the Civil War (in tandem with Vicksburg) with an astronomical number of casualties over the course of three days. Shaara brings the officers to life and one finds themselves understanding the interpersonal relationships and the personalities of the men ordering tens of thousands of soldiers to sacrifice themselves. If you have any interest at…

When I visited the Gettysburg Battlefield for the first time, I mentioned an interest in seeing where Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain had fought. “There’s more to Gettysburg than Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain,” sniffed the tour guide, who apparently had become tired of hearing people like me talk up the heroism Union colonel—a story many of us had learned from the pages of this 1974 novel, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The Killer Angels is an engrossing book and, despite the misgivings of my tour guide, remains one of the best ways to learn about the men and the motives behind…

This historical fiction work won a Pulitzer Prize and caught the interest of the average reader, thus promoting Civil War history more effectively than many other scholarly works. The author uses the three-day battle of Gettysburg to relate the causes of the war and the motivations that led old friends to face each other on the battlefield. Each day is told from the perspectives of Robert E. Lee and James Longstreet for the Confederacy, and Joshua Chamberlain and John Buford for the Union. It is filled with the author’s sense of emotion-laden decisions made by these officers as they went…

From Steve's list on home life during the Civil War.

Since I prefer writing historical novels, this book is in many ways the gold standard for that genre in Civil War fiction. Awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, this novel brings the reader to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to experience the pivotal battle of the Civil War on July 1-3, 1863 Over the course of those three days, the ferocity of the engagement claimed 51,000 men of both sides either killed, wounded, or missing. The story includes the perspectives of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and James Longstreet, along with Union generals Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and John Buford. Michael Shaara, an accomplished…

I am normally not a fan of historical fiction (Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall” trilogy excepted), but Shaara’s book is an example of how fiction can convey truth better than nonfiction. The subject here is one of the greatest and most telling in our history: the Battle of Gettysburg. The narrative is generally faithful to conventional histories, but because this is fiction we can see through walls and hear conversations never recorded. It’s a brilliant little book and I do believe it is the “truth” about the battle.

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