Custer by Larry McMurtry


11 Critic Reviews

The tragic life of this flesh-and-blood man, who still inspires admiration and hate, is a great story. How disappointing that Mr. McMurtry, a very fine storyteller, has chosen not to tell it.
-WSJ online


In this lavishly illustrated volume, Larry McMurtry, the greatest chronicler of the American West, tackles for the first time one of the paramount figures of Western and American history.

 On June 25, 1876, General George Armstrong Custer and his 7th Cavalry attacked a large Lakota Cheyenne village on the Little Bighorn River in Montana Territory. He lost not only the battle but his life—and the lives of his entire cavalry. “Custer’s Last Stand” was a spectacular defeat that shocked the country and grew quickly into a legend that has reverberated in our national consciousness to this day.

Pulitzer Prize winner Larry McMurtry has long been fascinated by the “Boy General” and his rightful place in history. In Custer, he delivers an expansive, agile, and clear-eyed reassessment of the iconic general’s life and legacy—how the legend was born, the ways in which it evolved, what it has meant—told against the broad sweep of the American narrative. We see Custer in all his contradictions and complexity as the perpetually restless man with a difficult marriage, a hunger for glory, and an unwavering confidence in his abilities.

McMurtry explores how the numerous controversies that grew out of the Little Bighorn combined with a perfect storm of technological developments—the railroad, the camera, and the telegraph—to fan the flames of his legend. He shows how Custer’s wife, Libbie, worked for decades after his death to portray Major Marcus Reno as the cause of the disaster of the Little Bighorn, and how Buffalo Bill Cody, who ended his Wild West Show with a valiant reenactment of Custer’s Last Stand, played a pivotal role in spreading Custer’s notoriety.

While Custer is first and foremost an enthralling story filled with larger-than-life characters—Ulysses S. Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, William J. Fetterman, Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Red Cloud—McMurtry also argues that Little Bighorn should be seen as a monumental event in our nation’s history. Like all great battles, its true meaning can be found in its impact on our politics and policy, and the epic defeat clearly signaled the end of the Indian Wars—and brought to a close the great narrative of western expansion. In Custer, Larry McMurtry delivers a magisterial portrait of a complicated, misunderstood man that not only irrevocably changes our long-standing conversation about Custer, but once again redefines our understanding of the American West.

About Larry McMurtry

See more books from this Author
Larry McMurtry is the author of twenty-nine novels, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Lonesome Dove, three memoirs, two collections of essays, and more than thirty screenplays. He lives in Archer City, Texas.
Published November 6, 2012 by Simon & Schuster. 192 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, War. Non-fiction
Bestseller Status:
Peak Rank on Nov 25 2012
Weeks as Bestseller
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Critic reviews for Custer
All: 11 | Positive: 6 | Negative: 5


on Aug 29 2012

The distilled perceptions of a lifetime of study, beautifully illustrated.

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NY Times

Above average
Reviewed by TIMOTHY EGAN on Nov 30 2012

There are a handful of inconsistencies and somewhat lazy conclusions here.

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WSJ online

Below average
Reviewed by Ryan Cole on Nov 30 2012

The tragic life of this flesh-and-blood man, who still inspires admiration and hate, is a great story. How disappointing that Mr. McMurtry, a very fine storyteller, has chosen not to tell it.

Read Full Review of Custer | See more reviews from WSJ online

NY Journal of Books

Below average
Reviewed by Dr. Mark Kass on Nov 06 2012

Larry McMurtry’s a difficult read because it lacks a foundational and historical logic. He would have been better served to create a work with a thematic centerpiece and a more compelling, consistent, and detailed narrative.

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Star Tribune

Reviewed by CHUCK HAGA on Nov 03 2012

... it is plain speaking that McMurtry delivers in this modest addition to "Custerology," the same laconic, whimsical voice that makes his novels so entertaining and readable.

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Book Reporter

Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on Nov 09 2012

The story of Custer has all the necessary ingredients to continue to engage any historian. CUSTER is a wonderful work that helps readers better understand a monumental event in our nation’s history.

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USA Today

Above average
Reviewed by Craig Wilson on Oct 31 2012's entertaining and educational at the same time.

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Above average
Reviewed by Steve Weinberg on Dec 02 2012

McMurtry provides valuable context throughout this short life of Custer, context about the Indian way of life, about the geography of the plains and the mountains, about the brutal nature of daily life without electricity and other conveniences.

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The Christian Manifesto

Below average
Reviewed by Ethan Harris on Sep 21 2012

I do not believe this is a good introduction to the subject of Custer and the Little Bighorn battle. It does nothing to contribute to the works already available...It holds no content that is new or revealing about the topic.

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Reviewed by Terri Schlichenmeyer on Nov 12 2012

Part of the appeal of “Custer” is McMurtry himself. Fans of this author will appreciate his almost waggish treatment of Custer...and they’ll like the concise, distinct McMurtry-style overview of it all.

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My San Antonio

Below average
Reviewed by David Hendricks on Nov 02 2012

A sour tone pervades much of McMurtry's text. Why would Simon & Schuster publish substandard texts like it does in “Custer”? The publisher obviously wants to put out any book with the name McMurtry on it.

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