The three most important parts of a book are: a well constructed plot, compelling characters, and a satisfying conclusion.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

THE LAST STAND: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn By Nathaniel Philbrick

The Last Stand by Nathaniel PhilbrickReviewed by WC

Publisher:  Viking Adult
Release Date:  May 2010
Pages:  466

About the Book:  The bestselling author of Mayflower sheds new light on one of the iconic stories of the American West

Little Bighorn and Custer are names synonymous in the American imagination with unmatched bravery and spectacular defeat. Mythologized as Custer's Last Stand, the June 1876 battle has been equated with other famous last stands, from the Spartans' defeat at Thermopylae to Davy Crockett at the Alamo.

In his tightly structured narrative, Nathaniel Philbrick brilliantly sketches the two larger-than-life antagonists: Sitting Bull, whose charisma and political savvy earned him the position of leader of the Plains Indians, and George Armstrong Custer, one of the Union's greatest cavalry officers and a man with a reputation for fearless and often reckless courage. Philbrick reminds readers that the Battle of the Little Bighorn was also, even in victory, the last stand for the Sioux and Cheyenne Indian nations. Increasingly outraged by the government's Indian policies, the Plains tribes allied themselves and held their ground in southern Montana. Within a few years of Little Bighorn, however, all the major tribal leaders would be confined to Indian reservations.

Throughout, Philbrick beautifully evokes the history and geography of the Great Plains with his characteristic grace and sense of drama. The Last Stand is a mesmerizing account of the archetypal story of the American West, one that continues to haunt our collective imagination.

WC's Review:  George Armstrong Custer wanted to be more than just a footnote in some history book. He craved recognition, far more than he received for his efforts during the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg in thwarting the Confederate cavalry attempts under icon JEB Stuart to outflank Union strongholds at the Roundtops on days two and three.

Custer needed more. He wanted to be recognized as the greatest Indian fighter in American history. Ironically, his success at the Battle of the Washita in November of 1868 not only gained him a modicum of the desired fame he craved, but led him to believe his 7th cavalry was invincible. Not so eight years later.

The Battle of the Little Bighorn in south central Montana in June of 1876 resonates on these pages, told by author Philbrick through the thoughts and deeds of a number of Custer's subordinates, Major Marcus Reno and Captain Frederick Benteen, neither of whom was particularly appreciative of the General's leadership. The thoughts and deeds of the Sioux leaders, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse most prominently, along with numbers of lesser Indians who fought courageously, figures in this detailed account of the gruesome fate of the flamboyant 37 year hero who remains notable today.

Well done, with interesting information on every page, this is a book that never fails to make you want to pick it up again and continue.

Nathaniel Philbrick
About the Author
Nathaniel Philbrick

Philbrick was Brown’s first Intercollegiate All-American sailor in 1978; that year he won the Sunfish North Americans in Barrington, RI; today he and his wife Melissa sail their Beetle Cat Clio and their Tiffany Jane 34 Marie-J in the waters surrounding Nantucket Island.

After grad school, Philbrick worked for four years at Sailing World magazine; was a freelancer for a number of years, during which time he wrote/edited several sailing books, including Yaahting: A Parody (1984), for which he was the editor-in-chief; during this time he was also the primary caregiver for his two children. After moving to Nantucket in 1986, he became interested in the history of the island and wrote Away Off Shore: Nantucket Island and Its People. He was offered the opportunity to start the Egan Maritime Institute in 1995, and in 2000 he published In the Heart of the Sea, followed by Sea of Glory, in 2003, and Mayflower. He is presently at work on a book about the Battle of Little Big Horn.

Mayflower was a finalist for both the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in History and the Los Angeles Times Book Award and was winner of the Massachusetts Book Award for nonfiction. In the Heart of the Sea won the National Book Award for nonfiction; Revenge of the Whale won a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award; Sea of Glory won the Theodore and Franklin D. Roosevelt Naval History Prize and the Albion-Monroe Award from the National Maritime Historical Society. Philbrick has also received the Byrne Waterman Award from the Kendall Whaling Museum, the Samuel Eliot Morison Award for distinguished service from the USS Constitution Museum, the Nathaniel Bowditch Award from the American Merchant Marine Museum, the William Bradford Award from the Pilgrim Society, the Boston History Award from the Bostonian Society, and the New England Book Award from the New England Independent Booksellers Association.