About Jeff Shaara
“It has to begin with a book called The Killer Angels,” says Jeff Shaara, reflecting upon his career writing bestselling novels about the Civil War and America’s other conflicts. His father, Michael Shaara, wrote the classic Civil War novel The Killer Angels, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1975 but didn’t become a commercial success until the film Gettysburg, based upon the book, was released in 1993. Michael Shaara died in 1988, and after the success of the film Jeff was persuaded to carry on his father’s work and write a prequel (Gods and Generals, 1996) and a sequel (The Last Full Measure, 1998).
Both were big bestsellers, and the Gods and Generals won the American Library Association’s William Young Boyd Award, no small triumph for a young man with no previous experience as a writer. The trilogy will be reissued by Ballantine Books in time for the sesquicentennial of the Civil War in 2011.
Shaara published one other Civil War novel, Gone for Soldiers, which followed many of his characters back to their experiences in the Mexican-American War of the 1840s. He then left the era behind for two novels set during the American Revolution, Rise to Rebellion and The Glorious Cause; a World War I novel, To the Last Man; one nonfiction book, Jeff Shaara’s Civil War Battlefields; and a number of novels about World War II, The Rising Tide, The Steel Wave, No Less Than Victory, and most recently, The Final Storm. Nine of his novels have been bestsellers.
What sets them apart? Most historical novels use fictitious characters, but Shaara takes you to a real event with the real characters who made that history. “My first job is to get into the heads of these characters so I’m comfortable putting words in their mouths,” he has said. He typically reads fifty to seventy books to write each novel, and any letters or diaries he can find. His reward: “I love to hear that wonderful little phrase, ‘I didn’t know that.”‘
Jeff Shaara, a descendant of Italian immigrants, was born in 1952 in New Brunswick, New Jersey, grew up in Tallahassee, Florida, and graduated from Florida State University with a degree in criminology. He started a rare-coin business when he was sixteen years old, and eventually became one of the most widely known coin and precious-metal dealers in Florida, an occupation he gave up when he took on his father’s mantle as a writer. He currently lives in Gettysburg, PA.
He is a popular speaker at lecture series, universities and MFA programs, book festivals, and Civil War and other historical organizations all over the country.