Shaara - The Killer Angels

July 19, 2004

Shaara, Michael - The killer angels : a novel
Prince Frederick, Md. : Recorded Books, p1991.
ISBN 0788739808 :
"Originally published in 1974 by David McKay Co., Inc., New York"

I read Killer Angels a few years back when the movie Gettysburg came out, and I grabbed this on CD as a car reading.

I did not finish it, got about halfway through and then no longer wanted to listen. I made it as far as the afternoon on the second day, with Longstreet preparing his assault late in the day, getting off slowly, and then discovering Sickles in the peach orchard.

The following comment will upset both fans of the Confederate Army and people who care about the Holocaust, but I find reading about Gettysburg to be distressingly like reading about Hitler in his bunker in 1945. In both cases I am very glad that the right people won the war. And, in both cases I have trouble reading the accounts of the losers -- they are making bad decisions that will have bad consequences for themselves, their nation, and the people whose lives depend on those decisions. So I am left torn, wishing that Lee had listened to Longstreed and moved to the right behind Meade, or that Longstreet and turned Hood loose to swing around behind the round tops into the Union baggage train; wishing that Hitler had issued moving retreat orders rather than stand and die orders, or that he remembered enough from his own wartime service to know that the icons on the map no longer represented large, powerful, military units. And yet, at the same time that I wish that Lee and Hitler had been more effective and made better decisions, I am also glad that they did make the wrong decisions.

I think that these mixed emotions are a reflection of the way that I read. I read for pleasure. My work reading is about people who try to accomplish things and generally fail, or generate unexpected consequences, or blind themselves to the bad outcomes that come with their desired goals. History, as a discipline, spends a lot of time looking at the warts, if only to explain the mistakes of the past. So, when I read for fun, I want to read about sucess, not failure. At that level fiction is a form of adolescent wish-fulfillment for me.

And, yet, if a piece of fiction is too easy, too obvious, I put it down unfinished. So when I read something like David Weber's Honor Harrington Series I get frustrated in the second quarter of the series because the villains are so stupid. There is as little vicarious pleasure in reading about a fictional character trouncing a stupid enemy as there is in reading, oh, yet another theory-driven screed ripping through selected aspects of the past in order to make an argument that can be countered by basic logic or basic awareness of the rest of the evidence.

I don't know if this makes sense. Time to go back to the real work.

Posted by Red Ted at July 19, 2004 03:11 PM | TrackBack
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