Books That Inspire 2013

The Killer Angels
Michael Shaara

Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (1975).

It is perhaps ironic that the best history of the Battle of Gettysburg, other than Shelby Foote's The Stars in the Courses (which is really an excerpt from his multi-volume trilogy, The Civil War) is Michael Shaara's novel, The Killer Angels. Born in 1928 and the son of Italian immigrants, Shaara wrote mostly science fiction and sports fiction before writing his classic Killer Angels, which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1975. In a note to the reader, Shaara explained his motivation: "Stephen Crane once said that he wrote The Red Badge of Courage because reading the cold history was not enough; he wanted to know what it was like to be there, what the weather was like. In order to live it he had to write it. This book was written for much the same reason." Shaara died of a heart attack in 1988. His son, Jeffrey, a writer himself, got his father's last book, For the Love of the Game, published posthumously. The story subsequently formed the basis for the 1999 Kevin Costner film by the same name. But it is The Killer Angels that continues to introduce new generations to the men who fought at Gettysburg—and how and why they fought—and it is Shaara who has helped make them so meaningful.

Charles E Rankin
University of Oklahoma Press