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Friday, October 21, 2016

THE FATEFUL LIGHTNING: A NOVEL of the CIVIL WAR (Book #4 of 4) (audiobook) by Jeff Shaara

Published in 2015 by Random House Audio
Read by Paul Michael
Duration: 25 hours, 30 minutes

The fourth book in what started out as a trilogy, The Fateful Lightning concludes Jeff Shaara's story of the Civil War's Western Theater with Sherman's March to the Sea and the eventual surrender of the Joseph E. Johnston's army in North Carolina. 

But, the story is more than that. It is also the story of newly freed slaves discovering what freedom truly means. It is the story of a way of life being destroyed and the hope that a new, more equitable society can rise up in its place. It is the story of a legendary commander whose self-doubts constantly plague him. It is the story of an army that knows deep down that it is going to lose but still tries to survive - for pride if for no other reason. 

Confederate Lt. General William J. Hardee
The story focuses on two generals - Union General William T. Sherman and Confederate General William J. Hardee. Hardee is trying to cobble together a little army made up of regulars and state militia in order to stop Sherman's advance. Hardee is greatly outnumbered and he has no idea where Sherman is going. Hardee literally wrote the book on tactics that both sides used, but Hardee was clueless as to how he should proceed because Sherman's March to the Sea was an unprecedented move. Hardee couldn't attack Sherman's supply lines because Sherman had no supply lines. Sherman kept his ultimate goal secret and made it look like he had multiple destinations. Hardee had to keep his small army thinly spread out just so that he could offer a token defense.

Once Hardee retreats into the Carolinas, Sherman's goal become obvious but by this point it doesn't matter - the Confederacy is collapsing all around...


The finale of this series is a definite improvement over the tedious second and third installments. The first book was excellent and this one was quite good. The tendency to get into the heads of the characters and repeat trains of thought was limited when compared to the middle two books.

I am a serious student of the Civil War and I was pleased to learn so much about General Hardee. Most books mention that he wrote the Army's book on tactics and that's about it. He was quite interesting.

Shaara's choice to make a main character out of Franklin, a slave freed by the arrival of Sherman's army, was interesting. The character has little to do with the actual military and could have easily been left out. But, Franklin's discoveries about what freedom really means away from the plantation make the reality of the changes brought by Sherman much more vivid.

The combination of scenes involving Lincoln and Lincoln's assassination are powerful. Some very strong writing.

The audiobook was read by Paul Michael. I do believe that he read for the entire series (I listened to volumes 2, 3 and 4) and his voice characterizations are consistent all of the way across the series. He is so good that you recognize voices without having to be told which character is speaking.

But, for all of his voice talents, Paul Michael is an exceedingly slow reader. His Southern drawls are magnificently slow. For the first time in my life I sped up the playback of the text (I listened to a digital file). I had to speed it up to play 20% faster just to make the characters speak at a tolerable level.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: The Fateful Lightning.

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