Saturday, January 12, 2013

Reflections: Gods and Generals

Adam C. Zern shares his thoughts on Jeff Shaara's Gods and Generals:

"Years ago I stumbled across The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara, a historical novel about the battle of Gettysburg, and thought I would give it a chance.  I have never forgotten it.  The narrative was one of the finest I've read in the historical novel genre.  Interestingly though, I didn't make much effort at the time to read the other books in the series, written by Michael Shaara's son, Jeff Shaara, Gods and Generals and The Last Full Measure.  After several years, I've finally taken some time to read the prequel to The Killer Angels, Gods and Generals, and it is a book I will not soon forget.

Character is where Gods and Generals truly shines.  The author takes sufficient time, in my opinion, to establish the central characters, such as: Robert E. Lee, Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, Winfield Scott Hancock, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, among others.  The best part about the book is that neither side, Federal or Southern armies, are painted to be totally evil or degenerate.  Characters fight for home and family, nation and unity, principles and virtues, not for a blind rage to dominate or control.  As a reader, you feel emotionally affected by each of their stories, regardless of which side they fought for.  The beginning of the book is especially poignant as the Civil War begins in earnest and friends begin to siphon off into opposing camps.  The subtext of the book—"The heartbreaking saga . . ."—is very appropriate to the realities presented in the book.  Although it's not oppressive in its "heartbreaking," it did affect me in a very real and lasting way.  I pondered often on the impact of the Civil War and felt sympathy for those who's lives were everlastingly changed by it.

Perhaps the only criticism I could offer regarding the book is that it once or twice becomes too consumed by the nuances of military tactics.  But those times were very brief and not terribly noticeable.  Overall, it's an excellent book. 

The moments that truly matter in this book are the ones surrounding the complex characters you're introduced to.  Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson's story is really the pay-off of this book, and it is genuinely moving.  I would highly recommend Gods and Generals, and I am sure little time will pass before I read the third and final book in the serious, The Last Full Measure."

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