I haven’t actually given up on my BBC book list. I’ve just , uh…. well, put it on the back burner for a while. Partly to fulfill book club obligations (more on that in a minute), partly to fill Bible study obligations, and partly to fulfill household-y obligations (no, not cooking – the only reason I’m barefoot in the kitchen is because I don’t want to get paint on my white sneakers).
In the meantime, the reading I have done – mainly my book club obligations – is still an adventure outside my comfort zone of Austen, Dickens, Dumas & Hugo. Our book this session was The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. This novel, which recounts the battle of Gettysburg, was the Pulitzer Prize winner in 1975. It is also certainly worth the read for history buffs, military tacticians, Johnny Rebs & damn Yankees, Americans with pride in their ancestors, or anyone who cares about the impact of war on individuals or societies.
Whether your forefathers wore blue or grey (or a little bit of both, like mine), you’ll enjoy the read. The novel doesn’t really seek to open a discussion of who was right, who was wrong, or even who should have won the war. The novel uses memoirs of the prominent military figures in the battle to recount the events of the three day battle at Gettysburg. Shaara fairly and openly discusses both sides’ views on why they are fighting, explaining both political and personal ideologies.
Shaara’s writing about war is refreshing, in that he doesn’t do what the authors of Catch-22 or Birdsong do – present war as a monstrosity, a blemish on the face of a good, moral successful society, an evil that will drive you mad. Instead, he faces war with perspectives similar to those his characters had. Yes, war is evil; civil war perhaps the most tragic of all. Men on both sides facing brothers and friends down the barrel of a gun or the blade of a bayonet.
But war, to these men, was also something necessary. Protecting rights, families, ways of life, land, freedom, even political ideology. While the book doesn’t look at the life of the average soldier, the one we think of when we point fingers at the bigwigs and decision-makers, it is interesting to note that almost all of the soldiers on either side were volunteers. They believed in something and they were willing to risk their lives for it.
I’m not a proponent of war. I think military action is appropriate only as a last resort. I appreciated, however, that the author didn’t try to force a modern mindset, like the one so clearly expressed in Catch-22, onto historical figures who would not even live to see the rise to prominence of the modern way of thinking about war. It would have been a gross anomaly and highly detrimental to the book.
Aside from the excessive overuse of sentence fragments, I had only one major complaint about the book. The depiction of Robert E. Lee is abysmal at best. I’m no expert on Lee, I’ve never read his biography and I confess that I’m not even much of a Civil War buff. There is something I do know about – leadership. And I assure you that a man does not become such a highly valued and respected leader of man or create a legacy which has lasted over 150 years and be a weak, ill, spineless, indecisive man.
I’d recommend anyone read this book, but only if you follow it up with a good biography of Robert E. Lee.
Wishing you good reads!