Shaara, Jeff 1952–
Shaara, Jeff 1952–
PERSONAL: Born February 21, 1952, in New Brunswick, NJ; son of Michael (a novelist) and Helen (Krumwiede) Shaara; married wife Lynne, October 3, 1992. Education: Florida State University, B.S. (criminology), 1973.
ADDRESSES: Office—P.O. Box 16445, Missoula, MT 59808. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Historical novelist. Coin dealer in Tampa, FL, 1968–88.
(Reviser) Michael Shaara, The Noah Conspiracy (revision of The Herald), 1994.
Gods and Generals, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 1996.
The Last Full Measure, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 1998.
Gone for Soldiers: A Novel of the Mexican War, Ballantine (Books New York, NY), 2000.
Rise to Rebellion, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2001.
The Glorious Cause, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2002.
To the Last Man, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2004.
ADAPTATIONS: Gods and Generals, Rise to Rebellion, The Glorious Cause, The Last Full Measure, and Gone for Soldiers were recorded for audio cassette; Gods and Generals was adapted into a film, directed by Ronald Maxwell from his screenplay, starring Stephen Lang, Jeff Daniels, and Robert Duvall, and released by Warner Bros. in 2003.
SIDELIGHTS: Although technically a first-time novelist, Jeff Shaara was far from unfamiliar with the writing trade when his book Gods and Generals was published, for he is the son of Pulitzer Prize-winning historical novelist Michael Shaara, author of 1974's The Killer Angels. Indeed, for his first fictional outing, Shaara, a former rare-coin dealer who eventually took over management of his father's literary estate, chose to write a prequel to his father's prize-winning book. While The Killer Angels deals with the military engagement at Gettysburg during the American Civil War, Gods and Generals portrays the years 1858 to 1863, which led up to the decisive battle.
Shaara did not expect to become a writer. He decided to write Gods and Generals, he said, after getting to know Ronald Maxwell, who directed Gettysburg, the film based on The Killer Angels, and who thought someone should continue the story. As Shaara explained to Insight on the News interviewer Kelly Patricia O'Meara: "Listening to Ron, I thought, 'Maybe I can do this. I don't know, but if someone is going to continue the story—continue my father's words—maybe it should be the son.' I wasn't afraid because I had no expectations." With the blessing of his mother and sister, he went ahead.
Shaara wrote Gods and Generals from the narrative viewpoints of two Southern and two Northern generals: Robert E. Lee and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and Winfield Scott Hancock, respectively. All except Jackson—who died before the battle of Gettysburg—are also characters in The Killer Angels, which like Gods and Generals tells its story from various participants' perspectives. Gods and Generals received "vast publisher promotion," in the words of Booklist contributor Brad Hooper, and earned a critical response to match. Hooper, referring to Shaara's genre as "superior historical fiction," averred that Gods and Generals offers readers a "splendidly detailed witness" to the war. Shaara, Hooper observed, explores the four generals' inner lives sufficiently to describe social and political issues in a meaningful fashion, resulting in "an impressive achievement."
A Publishers Weekly reviewer expressed similar views, particularly praising Shaara's exploration of the mind of Stonewall Jackson and complimenting the novel as a whole for being "impressive in its sweep, depth of character and historic verisimilitude." In short, wrote a Publishers Weekly critic, "the Shaara genes, it seems, are in fine shape." Thomas L. Kilpatrick, writing in Library Journal, also had positive words for the novel's exploration of the four generals' characters. "Considered together, the two novels by father and son present a powerful portrait of the generals who won and lost the Civil War," Kilpatrick remarked.
After the success of Gods and Generals, a closing chapter to the fictional trilogy, titled The Last Full Measure, was "a natural," according to Booklist reviewer Gilbert Taylor. The story begins with Lee's retreat from Gettysburg and concludes with his surrender at Appomattox. The general depicted here is a man "haunted by Stonewall Jackson's ghost," noted a Publishers Weekly critic, while his rival, Ulysses S. Grant, "more concerned about his supply of cigars than battle losses, comes across as a dolt." J. Edwin Smith, writing in the Chicago Tribune, had a different view, stating that the author "accomplished something that no writer before him has—put a human face and a compassionate heart within one of the war's most vilified warriors, Ulysses S. Grant." The focus on Grant was no coincidence, Shaara explained in an online Bookpage interview with David Madden. "I loved writing about that man. I wanted to shatter the myths about him and tell his story fully and truthfully. I liked being able to bring out the differences between Lee and Grant. People are emotional about Lee, a beloved figure, an inspiring figure. But Grant is cool and aloof, so I wanted to bring him alive for the reader."
In Gone for Soldiers Shaara turns to the Mexican War; this 1840s conflict involved many of the men who would go on to be Civil War leaders, including Lee, Grant, Longstreet, and Jackson. "All the way through the research on the Civil War characters they kept drawing attention to the war with Mexico," Shaara told O'Meara. "Down the roster all of them refer to that experience in Mexico during their maturing—in their growing up—as the one that really made them soldiers." Shaara's telling of their story is "respectable if uneven," commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer, who found the battle scenes in Gone for Soldiers "fluid and compelling" but character development lacking. Library Journal contributor David Keymer, however, thought the book "wonderful" in its portrayal of "eminently human heroes" fighting a "muddied" war.
Shaara examines the roots of the Revolutionary War in Rise to Rebellion, his fourth novel in five years. The novel covers the period from to 1770 to 1776, beginning with the Boston Massacre and ending with the Declaration of Independence. It depicts such historical figures as John and Abigail Adams, George Washington, and Benjamin Franklin. Shaara shows much more sympathy for these colonials than for their British rulers, observed Keymer in Library Journal, but all his characters are "complicated human beings" and he is able to bring their stories to "vibrant life." A Publishers Weekly critic also praised the book, writing that Shaara "demonstrates an ever-growing level of literary competence" and imbues the historical narrative with "vigor and passion."
A second volume on the American Revolution, The Glorious Cause, traces the conflict to its end. Once more presenting history from the viewpoints of the various people who lived it, "Shaara reaches new heights here, with a narrative that's impossible to put down," commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer. Robert Conroy, writing in Library Journal, praised the novelist's historical accuracy as well as his characterizations, and summed up The Glorious Cause as "rich, exciting, and compelling."
Shaara has said that despite his use of multiple viewpoints, his writing style is different from his father's; it is more action-oriented, among other things. When he began Gods and Generals, he told O'Meara, "My only conscious decision was to continue the format of The Killer Angels—going back and forth between characters, from one point of view to the other. In any case, there's absolutely no way to mimic my father's writing style. No matter how hard you try to write like someone else you'll run out of gas pretty quickly—you'll end up spending so much energy copying the style that you lose the substance." He added, "I understand what a classic Killer Angels is. I will never stand up and say I'm as good a writer as my father because I don't believe it, so it is hard for me to imagine that anyone could confuse our writing styles."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 119: Yearbook 1998, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Booklist, April 15, 1996, p. 1395; May 1, 1998, Gilbert Taylor, review of The Last Full Measure, p. 1478.
Chicago Tribune, June 12, 1998, J. Edwin Smith, "Bringing the Civil War to a Heartfelt End," sec. 5, p. 3.
Christian Science Monitor, June 18, 1998, Keith Henderson, "How Civil War Generals Thought and Fought," p. B7.
Insight on the News, September 11, 2000, Kelly Patricia O'Meara, "Shaara Makes Good on His Literary Legacy" (interview), p. 36.
Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 1996, review of Gods and Generals, p. 633.
Library Journal, May 1, 1996, Thomas L. Kilpatrick, review of Gods and Generals, p. 134; June 1, 1998, Charles Michaud, review of The Last Full Measure, p. 161; May 15, 2000, David Keymer, review of Gone for Soldiers, p. 126; March 15, 2001, David Keymer, review of Rise to Rebellion, p. 106; October 1, 2002, Robert Conroy, review of The Glorious Cause, p. 129.
Publishers Weekly, May 13, 1996, review of Gods and Generals, p. 55; April 20, 1998, review of The Last Full Measure, p. 44; April 3, 2000, review of Gone for Soldiers, p. 62; May 21, 2001, review of Rise to Rebellion, p. 78; September 30, 2002, review of The Glorious Cause, p. 45.
School Library Journal, August, 1997, Barry Williams, review of Gods and Generals, p. 190.
Jeff Shaara Web site, http://www.jeffshaara.com/ (August 11, 2004).