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My interest in General Custer had mostly been related to his service during the Civil War and all of my reading that touched on his life had been concerned with that period. However I recently watched one of the old Western movies that described his life and, knowing that it was pure nonsense, it made me realize that I knew very little of his life after the end of the Civil War except for his death at the Little Bighorn. Hence the purchase of this book.
I believed this to be a biography of George A Custer and, to some extent, it was precisely that. However Mr Stiles has also given us a broad view of life during Custer's lifetime and that broad view helps to explain much of what Custer did and why. The book starts with Custer's application to and acceptance at West Point, follows his life through West Point, through his life on George McClellan's military staff and his appointment as a general and his first commands. It then describes his life after the Civil War, his re-entry into the military and his life through various commands until his assignment to the 7th Cavalry and the battle of the Little Big Horn.
The book is long (at 23+ hours), but is never boring. Along with Custer's life the author takes time to describe the changes taking place in that nation so we have a good and detailed explanation of President Johnson's conflict with the Republican congress after the end of the Civil War, the reasons for his impeachment, Custer's meddling in politics and his opposition to the reconstruction policies of President Grant, the influence of the rise of a new type of capitalism and the Vanderbilts, Goulds and the Guilded Age, Custer's literary attempts and the failures of his attempts to make money in speculation. There is also a great deal of time spent on the problems Custer had with his military and civilian superiors Grant, Sherman and Sheridan toward the end of his career.
This is a very good book and provides a clear picture of what life was like in the middle to late 19th century, but in my view it is tarnished by the author's unwillingness to avoid psychoanalyzing Custer and inventing motives for his actions. A good deal of information comes from Custer's letters to his life Elizabeth as well as to his friends and other family and these make fascinating reading. Custer opposed the attempts by the Federal Government to protect the liberated slaves and to ensure that they had the vote and should be rightly judged for his segregationist views and his attempts to oppose Reconstruction, but the author should also understand that Custer was not alone among northerners with these views and that the age was one of common opposition to equality. It is right to judge Custer, but not to judge Custer alone.
The book is narrated wonderfully by Author Morey and I recommend it for anyone with an interest in the middle to late 19th century in the United States.
7 of 7 people found this review helpful
I thought I might gain a little bit of of knowledge about Custer, believing that I already knew Custer well. I was so wrong. I did not know as much as I thought I knew, and most of what I thought I knew was wrong.
The author has done an incredible job of telling the reader about the man who was Custer and about the people around Custer and the world that Custer lived in. Most importantly, he put the reader into Custer's head and heart and considered the times that Custer faced and who and what made Custer who he was, beyond only being a brave man.
If you like the whole period of American History around the Civil War and the first American depression, then you must read this book.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful