"The Killer Angels" by Michael Shaara. This is just a stunning book, a historical novel that reads like a work of history. It's about the battle of Gettysburg, not exactly unmined territory, but the deft and compassionate prose makes this a must-read anyway.
Michael Shaara's son, Jeff Shaara, tried to duplicate his father's techniques in a string of historical books. Alas, like father not like son. Stick with the original; accept no substitutes.
Sure, anyone can talk up a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel and remain on safe ground, but it’s the warning at the end that will save you some grief, and possibly money. Carroll’s summary is spot on. Ironically (sadly?), Jeff Shaara’s sequels and prequels, not to mention the movie rights, made a lot more money than Killer Angels, without ever replicating the gripping narrative or approximating the literary merit of the old man’s work. I was interested to learn that Killer Angels enjoyed no commercial success during the author’s lifetime, and that he was shocked when it won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1975.
There is a very interesting biography of Michael Shaara, penned by his son, here. Did you know he had more than 70 short stories published in the 1950s, and that two of them were produced as television dramas? Me either.
As a disclaimer, I should mention that I’ve never read a single one of Jeff Shaara’s books from start to finish. I have sat in the bookstore and read passages, and I read lots of reviews. And I queried people I knew had read them. I do not begrudge him his success. If anyone should be able to cash in on the name of an author and his work, it should be that author’s offspring. I give Jeff Shaara credit for actually writing the books, and fully acknowledge that people read his novels and enjoy them.
Am I qualifed to criticize? Well, I just recently put up posts on the baseball Giants, and the 49ers, and drew Civil War connections in both cases. That's no mean feat.