Pulitzer Prize, History, 2016
From the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner, a brilliant new biography of Gen. George Armstrong Custer that radically changes our view of the man and his turbulent times.
In this magisterial biography, T. J. Stiles paints a portrait of Custer both deeply personal and sweeping in scope, proving how much of Custer's legacy has been ignored. He demolishes Custer's historical caricature, revealing a volatile, contradictory, intense person - capable yet insecure, intelligent yet bigoted, passionate yet self-destructive, a romantic individualist at odds with the institution of the military (he was court-martialed twice in six years).
The key to understanding Custer, Stiles writes, is keeping in mind that he lived on a frontier in time. In the Civil War, the West, and many areas overlooked in previous biographies, Custer helped to create modern America, but he could never adapt to it. He freed countless slaves yet rejected new civil rights laws. He proved his heroism but missed the dark reality of war for so many others. A talented combat leader, he struggled as a manager in the West.
He tried to make a fortune on Wall Street yet never connected with the new corporate economy. Native Americans fascinated him, but he could not see them as fully human. A popular writer, he remained apart from Ambrose Bierce, Mark Twain, and other rising intellectuals. During Custer's lifetime, Americans saw their world remade. His admirers saw him as the embodiment of the nation's gallant youth, of all that they were losing; his detractors despised him for resisting a more complex and promising future. Intimate, dramatic, and provocative, this biography captures the larger story of the changing nation in Custer's tumultuous marriage to his highly educated wife, Libbie; their complicated relationship with Eliza Brown, the forceful black woman who ran their household; as well as his battles and expeditions.
"Spectacular...a satisfying portrait of a complex, controversial military man.... Confidently presenting Custer in all his contradictions, Stiles examines the times to make sense of the man - and uses the man to shed light on the times." (Publishers Weekly)
"Stiles doesn't disappoint with this powerful, provocative biography.... A highly recommended modern biography that successfully illuminates the lives of Custer and his family as part of the changing patterns of American society." (Library Journal)
"A warts-and-all portrait.... Stiles digs deep to deliver genuine insight into a man who never adapted to modernity." (Kirkus Reviews)
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Custer and his times
- Mike From Mesa