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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.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Mike From Mesa on 11-17-15
Custer and his times
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
By JackMargo on 06-23-16
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