Welcome back to my bookshelf! This week’s discussion is for you history buffs, and let me tell you that there will be plenty of books for y’all on down the line.
This one is in the historical fiction frame, but it’s not like a historical fiction romance or something. Killer Angels by Michael Shaara is the story of the Battle of Gettysburg – one of the most famous battles in American military history – through the point of view of the officers involved in the conflict.
Plotwise, it’s pretty basic. That’s because this Pulitzer Prize winner is meant to be a very realistic novel, not getting caught up in dramatic and irrelevant details. It’s got detailed descriptions of the layouts, the battle plans, the machinations and it peppers throughout with philosophy to color what would otherwise be a stark history lesson.
That description probably sounds boring, but just so you get a taste of how utterly not boring this is, this has been one of the most influential books of its era (1970s). PBS made a film of it, which I haven’t seen but I have heard good things. It’s called Gettysburg.
And for all you nerd culture fans out there, Joss Whedon cited this book as a major inspiration for his beloved one-season wonder, Firefly. Don’t know at least what Firefly is?
We’re probably not friends.
My mother bought this book for me so long ago that I’ve forgotten just how old I was. It was either late elementary school or early middle school, sometime when we were making one of our many visits to Civil War battlefields. I’ve actually never been to Gettysburg, as it was always out of our way. Despite the fact that I had to memorize the Gettysburg Address in school and I was inundated with Remember the Titans pretty much all my life, I’ve actually never had any burning desire to got to that particular battlefield. Antietam, yes. Gettysburg would simply be nice.
But I was always interested in wars, explosions, the development of war technology and how it changed human history. Even as a child, I thoroughly appreciated how human the characters were. They didn’t have to turn the story into sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll to make a familiar battle interesting. It didn’t have to be about race. It didn’t have to be anything other than what it was.
Actually, this story and all its introspection likely primed me for Hamlet, which I read not long after and had far fewer explosions.
Needless to say, if you’re looking for a realistic read about a battle – any battle – or if you’re studying the Civil War or Gettysburg in particular, this book is highly recommended. And if you’re a Joss Whedon fan, well, you’ve got to read it.