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Pulitzer Prize–winning author Michael Shaara’s son (who followed his late father's classic The Killer Angels with his own Civil War-set Gods and Generals, 1996, and The Last Full Measure, 1998) moves into new historical territory with this impressive fictional account of the comparatively lesser-known Mexican War (1846–48).

The novel's (almost exclusively military) actions are presented in parallel stories primarily featuring US Army commander Winfield (`Old Fuss and Feathers`) Scott, a decorated veteran of the War of 1812, and Scott's more-than-efficient subordinate, a 40-year-old engineer and artillery specialist named Robert E. Lee. To the younger Lee, the war is a welcome test of his still-developing tactical skills and his resolve; to the grizzled, unillusioned Scott, it's `a nasty little fight all about land,` and further evidence of catastrophic interference contributed to the war effort by the ill-judged `diplomacy` of President James Polk. The (invariably interesting) thoughts and experiences of both men are buttressed—and illuminated—by intermittent segments of the narrative presented from the viewpoints of such other combatants as roughhewn Captain Joe Johnston, brother officers Thomas J. `Stonewall` Jackson and Ulysses S. Grant (in these antebellum years, Lee's comrade-in-arms), and, notably, Mexico's defiant military leader Santa Anna (a richly drawn character who probably deserves his own novel). Shaara offers superb impressionistic descriptions of such crucial campaigns as the (early) naval attack on the port of Vera Cruz; the battles of Cerro Gordo, the `lava field` known as the Pedregal, and Churubusco; and the triumphant conquest of Mexico City, after which Scott is offered the position of `dictator of Mexico.` Parallels to Viet Nam aren't forced, but are strongly felt throughout this simultaneously stirring and deeply cautionary saga.

Another fine historical novel from a new master of the genre.

Pub Date: May 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-345-42750-5
Page count: 512pp
Publisher: Ballantine
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 2000


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