Jeff Shaara Introduction - Essay

Introduction

Jeff Shaara Gods and Generals and The Last Full Measure

Shaara is an American novelist.

Jeff Shaara's first novel, Gods and Generals (1996), was written as a prequel to his father's work, The Killer Angels, (1974), and covers many activities of the War from its beginning up to the eve of Gettysburg. Jeff's father, Michael, was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for The Killer Angels, which had as its principal theme the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg. Gods and Generals focuses on the careers, military experiences, motivations, and above all the psychological make-ups of four generals: the Confederate's "Stonewall" Jackson and Robert E. Lee, and the Union's Winfield Scott Hancock and Joshua Chamberlain. Critics have generally praised Jeff's depiction of the complex and strong personalities of these and other individuals in this novel and his success at bringing characters to life. Commentators have also admired his sweeping historical canvases. However, some have found fault with his creative skills. One reviewer declared that Gods and Generals "by having to plod dutifully across several years of battles, seems at times more like an impressionistic work of history than a work of fiction."

Shaara's The Last Full Measure (1998) rounds out the trilogy of his own and his father's earlier novels by concentrating on the post-Gettysburg period. The main theme of the novel is the 18-month conflict between the armies of General Lee and General Grant, which ended in Lee's surrender at Appomattox in April 1865. Most critics have liked The Last Full Measure, praising in particular Shaara's attention to historical detail and especially his depiction of battles. However, although Mark Bradley acknowledged the difficulties in writing historical fiction about such a well-known event as the Civil War, considered the novel to be somewhat unsatisfactory. In striving for an accurate historical portrait and good storytelling, he felt Shaara fell somewhere in the middle and failed at both. Still, despite one critic's reference to Shaara's "tendency toward caricature," most recognized that he succeeded in getting inside the heads of such complex personalities as Generals Lee, Chamberlain, and Jackson. His representation of General Grant is particularly skillful. J. Edwin Smith declared that Shaara "accomplished something that no writer before him has—put a human face on and a compassionate heart within one of the war's most vilified warriors, Ulysses S. Grant."