30 DoB Day 9: A Book You Thought You Wouldn’t Like, But Ended Up Loving

The scene:  A beautiful late spring day on the University of Delaware campus.  Finals week.  My final final – American History 1500 to 1870 – is the next day.  While going to grab some lunch with my friend Dave who is also in the class, we run into an classmate that because of some family matters is leaving early and was allowed to take the history final a couple of days ago. We ask him about it. His only comment is:

“You remember that book on the syllabus – The Killer Angels – that she said we’d be responsible for, but never talked about for a minute during the entire semester?  It was a third of the final!”

He then made a couple of comments regarding his opinion of our professor which I will not relate.  Importantly, my friend and I then realized that we were about 18 hours away from a torpedoed grade on the final (of course, we hadn’t read a word of it) – and the final was 50% of the overall class grade.  Ouch. Which brings us around to the next installment on the 30 Days of Books:

Day 09 – A book you thought you wouldn’t like but ended up loving

Needless to say, I didn’t start reading The Killer Angels with the best of attitudes and was prepared to hate every stinking page.  But somewhere in those first couple of hours, Michael Shaara’s gripping account of the Battle of Gettysburg gathered me in and pulled me along to the end early in the morning.  The narrative was a fascinating blend of history, military analysis, and what would now be called historical fiction.  The chaos of the battles, the dread of waiting and the “luck” (or fate) of those involved all came very much alive – of course, with the backdrop of what we now appreciate as the very fate of the Union hanging in the balance.

The Killer Angels

Needless to say, the following day, there were many stifled curses as the last page on the final was revealed to be an essay on The Killer Angels. Dave and I weren’t cursing though – from us there was just a giant sigh of relief  — and probably a yawn or two from having stayed up late finishing the book.

Note:  I actually enjoyed speed-reading this book enough that several years later I went back and re-read it at a my more “normal” pace.  I think I liked it even more!


7 thoughts on “30 DoB Day 9: A Book You Thought You Wouldn’t Like, But Ended Up Loving

  1. Some teachers actually know what they are talking about when they put books on the syllabus. I didn’t think I would like pride and prejudice, but it is one of my favorite books now.

  2. In our improv class the professor used to think that when groups of students did not get along well, it could actually improve scenes with tension in them. Perhaps your dread and fate fit well with the narrative of the book.

    50 percent – ouch indeed.

  3. It was ironic, but I didn’t read “The Killer Angels” until one of my students was assigned to read it and asked me to help her interpret the theme of the novel. It was the best fictional interpretation I’ve ever read of the Battle of Gettysburg, not the least because it made historical icons like Robert E. Lee human and approachable to a 21st-century audience.

    I also love historical novels, but this one really stood out for me. Tsk that your professor didn’t actually discuss it with your class: she missed out on bringing up some very important themes about the Civil War, including the fact that many Confederate officers were educated in the North and had divided loyalties to both the Union and the Confederacy. There’s a tendency to simplify history in this age of political correctness and political partisanship. Schaara serves neither, to his great credit.

    • HG — I have never been sure whether the prof was running behind on her lectures and we just never got to it in class, or whether it was intended as a “gotcha” from the get-go.

      Either way, I agree — I loved this book. I think it’s due for a re-read sometime in the not-too-distant future.

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