Winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for HistoryFrom the winner of two Pulitzer Prizes and a National Book Award, a brilliant biography of Gen. George Armstrong Custer that radically changes our view of the man and his turbulent times. Read more...
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Winner of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for HistoryFrom the winner of two Pulitzer Prizes and a National Book Award, a brilliant 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. It casts surprising new light on a near-mythic American figure, a man both widely known and little understood.
- ISBN-13: 9780307592644
- ISBN-10: 0307592642
- Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
- Publish Date: October 2015
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2015-08-31
- Reviewer: Staff
Stiles, winner of a National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize for 2009’s The First Tycoon, grounds this spectacular narrative of George Armstrong Custer in skillful research to deliver a satisfying portrait of a complex, controversial military man. The biography centers on the importance of period context in understanding character, incisively showing that Custer lived uncomfortably on a “chronological frontier” of great modern change in the U.S. Though Custer is best known for his fatal “last stand” at the 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn, Stiles recounts how the officer first attracted national attention for his cavalry exploits during the Civil War. Stiles also delves into the role of celebrity in Custer’s life, tracing the ebb and flow of his popularity over more than a decade after the war, as Custer struggled to find a prominent place in the “peacetime” army that the U.S. deployed in the West against Native Americans. Custer’s personal life was tumultuous: he was a womanizer before and during his marriage to Libbie Bacon, and their home life was complicated by the presence of a freed bondswoman as well as persistent rumors that he had taken a captive Cheyenne woman as his “mistress.” 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. Illus. (Nov.)