We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
- T.S. Eliot

Welcome to Ten Roads! This blog is intended to be a place for me to share my (generally Civil War-related) thoughts and experiences. I try to update once a week at the very least. All comments and readers are greatly appreciated!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


I've mentioned before that I have an intense dislike for Jeff Shaara. I was looking through today's Civil War news and saw mention of a new addition of Shaara's battlefield guidebook and it refueled my anger. So I decided that perhaps I would take this time to explain my reasons for being so very anti-Jeff Shaara.

Jeff Shaara is a pretty horrible writer. His sentences are incredibly long, comma-filled ramblings. Take this excerpt from Gods & Generals:
She walked out to the back, down the porch steps, looked across the yard, the new furrows in the clean brown soil, the bed of the new spring garden, waiting for the seeding, the new crop, and she knew he would not be planting it, that he would not be working his beloved field outside of town. She looked up to the porch, saw the cloth bags, the seeds. She had just bought them this week, had hoped to sit with him, to poke small fingers into waiting dirt, the beginnings of the new life, and she thought of him, the look of pure joy, sitting in the dirt, part of it, brown smudges all over his clothes and face; thick, caked dirt on his hands. He loved it, would ask her to sit with him, share the feeling, the good work with God's earth.
To find that excerpt, I just hit "Surprise Me!" on the Amazon look-inside-the-book thing and found a perfect example. Number of sentences: 4. Total comma count: 22!

It bothers me that Jeff Shaara has made money off of his father's name. His father was much more talented. And he acts as if he's carrying on the legacy when in reality he's just capitalizing off of it.

Then there's the ego. The tooting of his own horn and crazy self-importance really, really bothers me. When I used to work at the museum and he was doing the book signing, I was sitting nearby for most of the day and the whole time he just told everyone about how great he is. "My father wrote this book," he'd say, pointing to The Killer Angels. "And I wrote all of these other ones." About his battlefield guidebook, he said something about how he tried to recommend the more unknown ones so that people would go see them. Because, you know, if Jeff Shaara didn't recommend them, there'd be no point in going. Then his speech at the cemetery on Remembrance Day this year was so offensive to me that I have still not gotten over it. If you do not remember my post mentioning it, Jeff Shaara basically said "Today is not about me. So let me tell you about how great I am. History is boring, but I make it worth learning. Kids would hate history if it weren't for me. Who wants to memorize dates and stuff? Oh and by the way, when Lincoln spoke here on this day, he didn't know what he was saying." To top it all off, he got the casualty figures wrong.

As I've stated before, for some reason people do not feel like they can publicly state their dislike for Shaara. And it's not that people do not dislike him; so many people I have talked to (including historians) feel he is overrated and simply riding his father's coattails. Perhaps my age/inexperience in the "real world" is making me blind to some sort of unwritten rule stating that one cannot say anything negative about Jeff Shaara or else. Once again, I inquire as to why this is. Why are we so afraid of Jeff Shaara? Or why is the history community so afraid of him? I know I'm not.


marcferguson said...

Uh Oh, you broke the rule. Now you're in big trouble! I've got to say that I couldn't get through the first page of the first book of his I picked up.

The History Enthusiast said...

I appreciated your candor in this post! I had no idea about any of this. And, might I add, you are an excellent writer, especially for someone so young. Keep up the good work!

Larry Cebula said...

I don't know a damned thing about this issue but you are a fine and amusing writer!

Billy Yank said...

Not to break bad on History Enthusiast, but I would love to see more students your age able to write and think as you do. Critical Thinking is a tough sell to todays students, but you seem to have a good grasp of it. Keep up the good work.


yankeebelle said...

Hi Sarah,
Your blog is wonderfully refreshing -- though I will have to defend Jeff Shaara somewhat. I've heard him talk a number of times and never got the impression he was egotistical. Also he gives a lot of money for scholarships (like at VMI) as well as for literary works. As for his writing - that is completely subjective, so I won't argue that. Keep up the good work!
BTW, I am the author of a Civil War novel and would love to get an objective point of view from someone your age. If you are interested in reading it, let me know: JJ at writefromthepast@yahoo.com

mannie said...


Yeah, his dad was a much better writer. But he is not his dad, and he is not a good writer.

When will publishers, and consumers figure this one out?

Thanks for the post.


Jenny said...

I like a good rant. And this is .... a good rant. I loved "Killer Angels," but only read about two chapters of "Gods and Generals." I think one of the major problems with Shaara the younger's writing style is he was trying to copy his father's style. Shaara the elder reminds me of Hemingway in style -- but the two are distinct and different. Authors really need to develop their own voice when they write, not try to copy someone else.

Daniel Sauerwein said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Daniel Sauerwein said...


I don't think it is that historians are afraid to criticize Shaara because they criticize each other many times. I believe it is that they choose to ignore him since he is not an academic professional. He does not write historical scholarship, so most historians are going to ignore him because his works are not adding to any debate. The reason that he speaks at many engagements is because he has a niche within popular history, which attracts crowds. Unlike James McPherson, who is a history professor and has made a mark for himself among popular markets with his scholarship, Shaara has no formal historical training and writes fiction. The historical community has bigger things to worry about besides what a fiction writer (Shaara) does. If you are truly concerned about this with relation to Gettysburg, get to know the planners of the events and get them on your side and ask them not to invite Shaara for reasons x,y, and z. My advice is to keep learning and not let Shaara bother you, as you will face more ego in the profession itself than you can imagine.

Geoff Elliott said...

Your own writing is impeccable, Sarah. I hope you will find the courage to continue pursuing your love of history as you enter college and will choose it as a career.

Jeff Arey said...

I have read most of Jeff Shaara's novels. I do agree I was a bit baffled by the long running sentences and such, but I enjoy his stories because I like the characters and personalities he creates.
There is still quite a lot of research he has done and the factual information revealed in his works is quite good I think. But, as others here have stated- it's popular culture, nothing more.