In Gods and Generals, Shaara tells old stories in his own style and prose, using factual information to create a realistic yet still entertaining narrative. The author’s tales revolve around four generals and the events surrounding them, particularly in reference to the Civil War. Shaara depicts events in order of occurrence, but takes a degree of liberty in adding speech and thought to make the generals’ views easier to understand and more relatable. Jeff Shaara has written an indirect yet thorough portrait of the war through their eyes, detailing their lives in order to help us connect with them as humans rather than historical abstractions. He does this by describing the attitudes and feelings of the men as the foundation of their home cracked in two. Shaara’s purpose in writing the book is twofold. At face value, the book was written to educate and inform people about a time in American history that is not only hotly debated in its details but one that remains relevant to this day. However, there is another purpose which drove the author to create this work.
On page twenty-six, Jeff Shaara said he wanted “to leave... a legacy to be remembered.” This was largely a result of the admiration he felt towards his father, which he directly stated as well. Michael Shaara wrote a book titled Killer Angels, which served as a template for his son’s efforts. The author uses both primary and secondary sources to write the novel. Particularly, Lieutenant Colonel Keith Gibson was instrumental in providing Shaara with many of the primary sources he used to create this work. The items he provided are primary because they were directly involved in the events that occured during this time. Talking to Gibson is secondary because he is relaying information passed to him from some other source, not information he obtained with his own senses. The book is organized chronologically. The story, despite shifting perspectives, follows a roughly sequential series of events. Disregarding the exposition of the generals as it is a necessary introduction for the sake of the reader, the book doesn’t skip a beat in their story. Shaara executes his transitions between the generals well, and doesn’t fall into the trap of rewriting the same section essentially the same way four times.
The author does a good job emphasizing the points that make up his arguments with graphs and other resources. These help the reader, who likely has no military education, try to understand the thought process behind many of the decisions these key players made during their tenure. Jeff Shaara argues the point that the civil war would not have come about whatsoever if there had been a general consensus of the extent of the federal government’s jurisdiction. He also makes an additional point, noting that the sheer competency of the Confederate generals could’ve allowed them to defeat the Union despite the statistical disadvantages they would need to surmount. Despite this, the equally competent General Grant defeated them with the much welcomed help of superior infrastructure, manufacturing, and equipment. Shaara is an author of realistic fiction. Having written other books of high quality before, this book was as expected: an enjoyable read. Most impressively, despite being by necessity a work of fiction, it is incredibly dutiful in its use of sources to illustrate the points and events the author chose to use in as accurate a manner as possible. Because it is impossible to know the true thoughts and feelings of the generals beyond their writings and empirical evidence, this book is a work of fiction at least in part and is therefore inherently subject to the author’s bias. It is not expressed in an overt way, or even intentionally at all; however, every fictional part of the book is a product of Shaara’s thought process and therefore will be inherently biased despite no obvious leanings on the issue. The book remains accurate despite this though. This is a result of bias being limited to the fictional parts, and being unable to twist or corrupt the data presented alongside it. Shaara has written other books as well.
All of them are about wars, but some are specifically sequels to his father’s Killer Angels. The style of Shaara’s work doesn’t change, it is consistently from the point of view of generals involved in the war depicted with primary and secondary sources as resource material. Shaara has received the NY Times Bestseller and Pulitzer Prize awards on multiple occasions for his books, so clearly his style is effective. Shaara has designed this book to be an enjoyable read for a wide audience. He manages to present neat information in a professional way without being repetitive, much to the benefit of those with historical background knowledge. He also explains the concepts simply and enjoyably for readers who do not have the aforementioned background knowledge. Pandering the book to a wide variety of people in an approachable way is probably a large contributor to his success as an author. Gods and Generals was an enjoyable read, but I would not recommend it to those who do not already like history or this particular time period. I got somewhat absorbed in it, but can see how almost five-hundred pages could be daunting for someone who might not like the subject as much. I didn’t have an issue with the number of pages, but I think it is important to mention. Gods and Generals did a good job of helping me to remember the abstract historical figures of importance were also people, and carried all the burdens that result from that. I always knew to a degree that this was true, but Shaara did a really admirable job of putting that into words. Gods and Generals was a fun read, and I would not be opposed to reading another book by Shaara if time permits me.
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