Shaara, Jeff 1952-
Shaara, Jeff 1952-
Born February 21, 1952, in New Brunswick, NJ; son of Michael (a novelist) and Helen Shaara; married October 3, 1992; wife's name Lynne. Education: Florida State University, B.S., 1973.
Home—Sarasota, FL. E-mail—[email protected]
Historical novelist. Florida Coin Exchange, Tampa, FL, owner, 1968-88.
MILITARY HISTORICAL NOVELS
Gods and Generals, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1996.
The Last Full Measure, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1998.
Gone for Soldiers: A Novel of the Mexican War, Ballantine (New York, NY), 2000.
Rise to Rebellion, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2001.
The Glorious Cause: A Novel of the American Revolution, Ballantine (New York, NY), 2002.
To the Last Man: A Novel of the First World War, Ballantine (New York, NY), 2004.
The Rising Tide: A Novel of World War II, Ballantine (New York, NY), 2006.
Jeff Shaara's Civil War Battlefields: Discovering America's Hallowed Ground (nonfiction), Ballantine (New York, NY), 2006.
The Last Full Measure and Gone for Soldiers were adapted for audio cassette; Gods and Generals was released as a film by Warner Bros. in 2003.
The author of best-selling military historical fiction, Jeff Shaara was not unfamiliar with the writing trade when his first novel, Gods and Generals, was published. He is the son of author Michael Shaara, who wrote the 1974 Pulitzer Prize-winning historical novel The Killer Angels. Indeed, for his first fictional outing, Shaara wrote a prequel to his father's acclaimed book, which had been adapted into the 1993 film Gettysburg. The defining characteristics of Gods and Generals, including vivid action scenes, multiple perspectives, and inner monologues, have since become the touchstones of Shaara' writing style.
While The Killer Angels deals with the military engagement at Gettysburg during the American Civil War, Gods and Generals portrays the five years leading up to the decisive battle. The story is narrated from the 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 four were major characters in The Killer Angels. Shaara's debut received "vast publisher promotion," in the words of Booklist contributor Brad Hooper, and a critical response to match. Hooper, referring to Shaara's work as "superior historical fiction," averred that Gods and Generals offers readers "splendidly detailed witness" to the war. Shaara, Hooper observed, explores the four generals' inner lives sufficiently, describing the social and political issues of the day in a meaningful fashion. The book is "an impressive achievement," Hooper concluded.
A Publishers Weekly contributor expressed similar views, praising Shaara's portrayal of Stonewall Jackson in particular and the novel as a whole for being "impressive in its sweep, depth of character and historic verisimilitude." The critic concluded: "The Shaara genes, it seems, are in fine shape." Equally enthusiastic was Thomas L. Kilpatrick in Library Journal, who also hailed the novel's exploration of the four men's characters. "Considered together, the two novels by father and son present a powerful portrait of the generals who won and lost the Civil War," he said.
After the success of Gods and Generals, a closing chapter to the fictional epic was "a natural," according to Booklist reviewer Gilbert Taylor. The Last Full Measure 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," said a Publishers Weekly critic, while his rival, Ulysses S. Grant, who is "more concerned about his supply of cigars than battle losses, comes across as a dolt." J. Edwin Smith, writing in the Chicago Tribune, took a contrary view, stating that the author has "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." The focus on Grant is no coincidence, said the author in a Bookpage Online interview with David Madden. "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."
Shaara's next book, Gone for Soldiers: A Novel of the Mexican War, delves further back into history and the lives of The Killer Angels characters. This prequel to Gods and Generals places particular emphasis on General Winfield Scott's mentorship of Lee. While Gone for Soldiers was Shaara's third best seller, it received less critical acclaim than its predecessors. Jeff Guin, writing in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, commented that the book "never gets going, storywise, perhaps because the conflict it describes was so confusing." Library Journal reviewer David Keymer, on the other hand, termed the book "simply wonderful, populated with eminently human heroes … called upon to perform Herculean tasks."
In Rise to Rebellion and its sequel, The Glorious Cause: A Novel of the American Revolution, Shaara turns his attention to the Revolutionary War. Among the books' multiple narrators are George Washington, John and Abigail Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Nathaniel Greene. According to Insight on the News critic Rex Roberts, "the chief flaw, or greatest asset, of Rise to Rebellion" is that "the book is a patriotic melodrama meant to remind readers of the glories of the American Revolution and the ideals behind the War of Independence." Reviewing the same title for Library Journal, Keymer also acknowledged that the author's "sympathies are evident" but praised Shaara's "ability to make our national myths sing." Hooper, again writing in Booklist, concluded that the book "gives historical figures flesh-and-blood viability." Remarking that the sequel "establishes immediacy in its colorful profiles of the participants," a Publishers Weekly reviewer deemed The Glorious Cause "vivid … historical fiction, but also a primer on leadership and the arts of war and diplomacy." A Kirkus Reviews contributor criticized the book's tone, characterization, and pace, but Library Journal critic Robert Conroy called the work "rich, exciting, and compelling."
Shaara followed The Glorious Cause with To the Last Man: A Novel of the First World War. Told from the perspectives of such figures as American General John "Black Jack" Pershing and "the Red Baron," famed German pilot Manfred von Richtofen, To the Last Man presents "a gruesomely graphic portrayal of the brutality and folly of total war," in the words of a Publishers Weekly critic. While a contributor to Kirkus Reviews took issue with the novel's considerable attention to "at-a-distance conflict" between characters and lack of historical analysis, Booklist contributor Jay Freeman felt that in this work, Shaara "again displays his gift for portraying the intensely human side of warriors."
The Rising Tide: A Novel of World War II opens with desert warfare in North Africa and leads up to the invasion of Sicily and the planning of D-Day. According to Booklist critic Margaret Flanagan, Shaara "vividly recreates a cast of military and political heroes and villains," combining their stories with those of "ordinary soldiers thrust into extraordinary circumstances." In so doing, a Kirkus Reviews critic felt that The Rising Tide sacrifices depth for breadth, as "highly charged moments fade quickly between the shuffling of perspectives" and the novel's "multiple voices do not achieve harmony." Library Journal contributor Robert Conroy, on the other hand, termed Shaara's approach "engrossing," and concluded that "even readers who think they know a lot about … World War II will be fascinated."
Though Shaara has established himself as an author in his own right, he is still occasionally compared to his father. "I'm not a better writer than my father and never will be," Shaara once told Amazon.com interviewer John J. Miller. "My mother has said that his book is more mental and contemplative and that my books are more action oriented. I think that's right."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 119: Yearbook 1998, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Book, November 1, 2002, James Sullivan, review of The Glorious Cause: A Novel of the American Revolution, p. 82.
Booklist, April 15, 1996, Brad Hooper, review of Gods and Generals, p. 1395; May 1, 1998, Gilbert Taylor, review of The Last Full Measure, p. 1478; March 15, 2000, Gilbert Taylor, review of Gone for Soldiers: A Novel of the Mexican War, p. 1294; March 1, 2001, Brad Hooper, review of Rise to Rebellion, p. 1188; October 1, 2002, Brad Hooper, review of The Glorious Cause, p. 276; May 15, 2003, review of The Glorious Cause, p. 1638; September 15, 2004, Jay Freeman, review of To the Last Man: A Novel of the First World War, p. 180; April 1, 2006, Jay Freeman, review of Jeff Shaara's Civil War Battlefields: Discovering America's Hallowed Ground, p. 15; October 1, 2006, Margaret Flanagan, review of The Rising Tide: A Novel of World War II, p. 6.
Chicago Tribune, June 12, 1998, J. Edwin Smith, "Bringing the Civil War to a Heartfelt End," review of The Last Full Measure, sec. 5, p. 3.
Christian Science Monitor, June 18, 1998, Keith Henderson, "How Civil War Generals Thought and Fought," p. B7.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram, May 24, 2000, Jeff Guin, review of Gone for Soldiers.
Insight on the News, September 11, 2000, "Shaara Makes Good on His Literary Legacy," interview with Jeff Shaara, p. 59; July 23, 2001, Rex Roberts, review of Rise to Rebellion.
Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 1996, review of Gods and Generals, p. 633; September 15, 2002, review of The Glorious Cause, p. 1343; September 15, 2004, review of To the Last Man, p. 888; August 15, 2006, review of The Rising Tide, p. 806.
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; October 1, 2004, Robert Conroy, review of To the Last Man, p. 73; October 1, 2006, Robert Conroy, review of The Rising Tide, p. 61.
People Weekly, December 16, 2002, review of The Glorious Cause, p. 59.
Philadelphia Inquirer, July 3, 2000, Desmond Ryan, review of Gone for Soldiers.
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; September 30, 2002, review of The Glorious Cause, p. 45; October 11, 2004, review of To the Last Man, p. 54; August 7, 2006, review of The Rising Tide, p. 26.
Roundup, October 1, 2000, review of Gone for Soldiers, p. 35.
Sarasota Herald Tribune, September 24, 2006, "A Veteran of War Novels; ‘Storyteller’ Jeff Shaara Revisits World War II in the First Novel of His New Trilogy," p. 4.
School Library Journal, August, 1997, Barry Williams, review of Gods and Generals, p. 190.
Tribune Books, September 23, 2001, review of Gone for Soldiers, p. 6; June 8, 2003, review of The Glorious Cause, p. 6.
Writer, April, 2005, interview with Jeff Shaara, p. 66.
Amazon.com,http://www.amazon.com/ (September 18, 2001), John J. Miller, "A Measure of Shaara," interview with Jeff Shaara.
Armchair Interviews,http://www.armchairinterviews.com/ (May 25, 2007), Jeff Foster, review of Jeff Shaara's Civil War Battlefields.
Jeff Shaara Home Page,http://www.jeffshaara.com (September 30, 2001).
Newt,http://www.newt.org/books/ (July 30, 2001), Newt Gingrich, review of Rise to Rebellion.