The Killer Angels Critical Overview
by Michael Shaara

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Critical Overview

(Novels for Students)

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Published by a small independent publisher in 1974, The Killer Angels at first attracted little attention from major review sources. In a very brief review in Atlantic Monthly, Phoebe Adams notes that Shaara had taken “a novelist’s liberty of invention with [selected officers’] motives and reactions.” Adams concludes that the novel was “an unusual project and has worked out well, with excitement and plausibility.” The reviewer for Publishers Weekly comments that Shaara “fashions a compelling version of what America’s Armageddon must have been like.” The reviewer concludes that The Killer Angels is “a novel Civil War buffs will relish for its authenticity and general readers will appreciate for its surefire storytelling.” In Library Journal, Ellen K. Stoppel comments that “Although some of [Shaara’s] judgments are not necessarily substantiated by historians, he demonstrates a knowledge of both the battle and the area. The writing is vivid and fast-moving.”

The novel received more attention when it won the Pulitzer Prize in 1975. Edward Weeks, in a longer review in Atlantic Monthly, comments that “The best way to write about battle is to tell it as the men who went through it saw it and felt it, and that is what Michael Shaara has done in this stirring, brilliant interpretive novel.”

When the television miniseries, Gettysburg, based on The Killer Angels, was screened in 1993, the novel achieved popular success, reaching number one on the New York Times bestseller list, nineteen years after its publication. On publication in England in 1997, the reviewer for the Times Literary Supplement noted that the novel concentrates entirely on the battle, rather than ranging into social territory. Commenting that “the reader becomes involved in the decisions which had to be taken and the conditions of combat, harrowingly described,” the reviewer concludes that the novel is a “moving, dramatic tale.”