The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara A-
I’m rather late to the game with this book from 1974, but better late than never. Sometime back in the 1960’s I picked up Avalon Hill’s Tactics ll, and played a lot of wargames in my high school and collage years, and off and on since then, including a decade of playing Napoleonic miniatures. Over that period I have read some military history, but not extensively so. The thing about military history is that no matter what book you read about a battle or campaign, nothing ever changes. The same mistakes are made every time, so that what interest me more than the battles is the story of the leaders, and that is what The Killer Angels is about. I am somewhat familiar with the Battle of Gettysburg, I’ve gamed it a couple of times, so I had no need to read about it again. What Shaara does is touch on the overall situation and some of the key points of the battle to set the scene, but his main focus is on Generals Lee and Longstreet, with a few other Confederate generals, and the Union general Buford, and a Union colonel Joshua L Chamberlain who commanded a brigade that defended Little Round Top on the second day of the battle. Using extensive research and the memoirs of the people involved, he fictionally recounts the events of the three day battle from the viewpoint of these men. The fictionalization of the memoirs makes them more alive to readers a century after the event then the more “stilted” writing of another era by the men themselves. It was a compelling read.
Mister Roberts by Thomas Heggen A-
This was a reread, probably my third reading of this book. Growing up in the 50’s and 60’s of the last century, we watched a lot of war movies on TV. Mister Roberts was certainly one of them, and one of the best of them. The book is just as good, if not better. It humorously recounts life aboard a US Navy cargo ship in the South Pacific during World War Two. Plying the backwaters of the conflict, boredom and indifference was the crew’s biggest enemy. The book is composed of short stories that mix humor, character studies, and philosophy based on Heggen’s three years of sea duty during the war. It’s an entertaining book, that seems to have some special appeal to me, for reasons I can’t place. My father served in the Pacific with the US Navy during the war, but it’s not like he ever talked about his service life. So I don’t know where the appeal comes from – but I did write my own set of stories set in a tropical ocean. It’s that powerful. In any event, you don’t need that affinity to the South Pacific to enjoy the book Recommended.
Sharpe’s Sword by Bernard Cornwell C+
This is book number 14 in Bernard Cornwell’s 23 book series concerning the doings of one Richard Sharpe, a soldier in the British Army from 1799 to 1821. There is a TV series based on these books, that I’ve not seen. The books largely concern themselves with the war against Napoleon, as Sharpe rises through the ranks from a private of an officer. This book concerns the British Army’s Salamanca Campaign in Spain in 1812. This is the first Sharpe book I have read, and the only one as an ebook from the library, which is why I’m jumping in at book number 14.
Cornwell writes very well researched and authentic stories of war, with a great deal of detail. Perhaps too much, for my taste since as someone who has read a number of books on the this type of battle, I am familiar with the horror involved. I found myself skimming parts of the descriptions of battles. A more significant sticking point for me, is the character of Sharpe. Sharpe is brave, resourceful, determined, adored by his subordinates, valued by his superiors, loved and bedded by the most attractive woman in the book, but nevertheless, I found him to be a rather colorless character. He is neither witty, nor clever, or entertaining. But what I really did not like most of all, is that Cornwell has Sharpe do something subtle in the battle, that swings the battle in the favor of the British. Without Sharpe, the battle might have been lost. I really dislike when authors have their fictional characters save the day in a historical battle. I've encountered that before. All in all these are minor quibbles, but they all add up. I will not be continuing on with Sharpe. However, next up is Cornwell’s non-fiction recounting of the battle of Waterloo. I expect it to be quite readable.