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The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

15 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

Little Bighorn

Custer ~~ Sitting Bull ~~ Little Bighorn. The names evoke excitement & mystery even today. The events of 25 Jun 1876 are (& will be) shrouded in nystery & will never be known with any confidence of accuracy.All that can be said for sure is that Gen Custer & his 7th Cava...
Custer ~~ Sitting Bull ~~ Little Bighorn. The names evoke excitement & mystery even today. The events of 25 Jun 1876 are (& will be) shrouded in nystery & will never be known with any confidence of accuracy.All that can be said for sure is that Gen Custer & his 7th Cavalry died fighting to "the last man" in one of the greates "Last Stands" in the American west. And yet, Nathaniel Philbrick, has managed to pick through the strands of time & history to bring it to life. And he succeeds admirably. And, in doing so, he shows the simularities of Gen Custer & Sitting Bull; each had their demons, their flaws, their beliefs & their strategies.This is history at its finest as Mr Philbrick takes us along with the 7th Cavalry on its ill~fated 1876 campaign. And he follows the Sioux as they attempt to recapture tribal life as it was before the white man arrived. It is fascinating & well researched. His conclusions & placement of blame for the disaster may not be much of a surprise but they are backed up with his historian's instinctive grasp of detail & narrative. He gives us a first~hand look at the personalities of Custer & Sitting Bull & how Custer's Last Stand in effect was also the Last Stand for the Sioux & American Indian.

posted by dragonsscape on June 8, 2010

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Most Helpful Critical Review

8 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

No Love for Custer

Philbrick's work is characterized for its passion, entrancing the reader with the power of his research and historical characters that arouse empathy from his audience. It's clear that both Mayflower and In The Heart of The Sea are subjects that are near and dear to th...
Philbrick's work is characterized for its passion, entrancing the reader with the power of his research and historical characters that arouse empathy from his audience. It's clear that both Mayflower and In The Heart of The Sea are subjects that are near and dear to the author. Both aforementioned works provide insight to cultures and eras that are vividly revealed to the reader. The Stand is an aberration to Philbrick's work, a multi-faceted recollection of the first great American military disaster (a subject that is fascinating enough) focusing primarily on the confrontation from eyewitness accounts. His depiction of the American military leadership on the ground (Terry, Custer, Reno and Bennton) leaves a sour taste in the mind of the reader. There is no love for these figures, and Philbrick's narrative places a tremendous amount of weight on individuals that, frankly, are not that interesting. Oddly, Philbrick doesn't seem too interested either. He occasionally discusses Sitting Bull and the Lakota peoples, but these moments are all too brief--and superficial. His inclusion of the Lakota reeks of political correctness, especially when he mentions that this was really Custer and Sitting Bull's "last stand."

The Last Stand does have its moments. The depiction of the battle, Reno's "Charge," and the subsequent sieges are harrowing stories. Philbrick's narrative is captivating, providing eyewitness accounts of the military tactics and the complete incompetence of the American military operation. Outside of these components, The Last Stand is a disappointment, but for the reader interested in the Custer campaign its certainly worthy of a read.....

posted by HarryVane on June 13, 2010

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  • Posted November 10, 2010

    Excellent update of the familiar story, but read it in hardcover!

    Nathaniel Philbrick pulls off the impressive trick of going over familiar ground in a fresh way. Read The Last Stand, then re-read Evan S. Connell's Son of the Morning Star for a different slant -- you'll enjoy the juxtaposition. Meanwhile, I have to say that reading The Last Stand on my Nook was a disappointing experience. The maps are completely illegible, and the striking photographs that grace the hardcover edition are not only missing -- their existence is left unacknowledged. To get the full experience of reading this title, you still need to buy the printed version.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 2, 2011

    Informative

    It has been a while since I have read Son of Morning Star so it was good to read another account of the famous General Custer and be refreshed of the famous battle. There was nothing new in this last book except in the way it was written. The chronology of events and positioning of Reno and Benteen's troops was helpful in visualizing the events. What was annoying and jarring was the flashback style of the characters that did not really help in the flow of those events as they happened. Philbrick treated both the Indian and the army fairly although there seemed to some political correctness laced throughout. Benteen and Reno were the focus and bear much responsibility while Custer's actions can only be told through speculation. While Custer's character flaws are brought out, there seems to be a lack of speculation on the responsibilities of those in the high command and their actions that may have prevented this massacre. Is it possible that Custer was a pawn and that those that gave the vague orders to Custer, Benteen and Reno knowing Custer and his character? At the end of the book, Philbrick says that Sitting Bull's victory over the army was really a loss for the Indian nations. This is very true when the reservation system and the conditions of the American Indian today. They are kept in line by making them dependent on the government the same way as in the later 1800s. It is a policy that needs to be examined force the Indian to become more self-reliant. There is no pride that the Indian once had in living free and self-sustaining. The question that has yet to be answered is, what brought about the gathering of all the tribes some of whom were enemies? The fear of the U.S. Army because of the massacres at Sand Creek and the Minnesota uprising, is a root, however, there had to be another reason for this gathering of largest force of Indian warriors ever. After the Battle at LBH, they went their separate ways. Had they stayed together the army would have had a difficult time subduing them. I would recommend this book to any one who has not read much on Custer.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 6, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Behind the headlines

    Finally after a lifetime study of the Lakota, a writer who helpfully illustrates places and people within numerous first person narrative of events. Much appreciated are the maps showing locations of agencies which are usually overlooked in books about the Plains Indians. There are also depicted details of Indian travels, troop movements, time elements. Many excellent photographs of soldiers and even a few new photos of Indians. Excerpts of written accounts on interactions between leaders in months and days leading up to event. No matter if you are for or against Custer, his own words tell us much, and there are many of them as he was a constant correspondent to his wife, friends, newspapers.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 10, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Into The Valley Of Death

    A hard hitting, well-balanced look at arrogance and jealousy in the U.S. military. As history shows, this was not the "Last Stand" for only General Custer and his men, but, also, for Native Americans. A book that's hard to put down.

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 23, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    The beginning of the end of Indians in America...

    This history does what every nonfiction title aspires to do: makes the reader want to run out and read as much as they can on the subject. That is exactly what I found myself doing today--looking in my public library for more. The Last Stand doesn't so much slake your thirst as inflame it. When I looked over the books on similar subject matter, I can see why. It was clear Philbrick used primary sources, but also built on what had come before: he consolidated information and didn't impede the forward momentum of the story. He added maps in the right places to clarify movements, and included photos which flesh out the characters. This book is about the last stand of the Indians in America. Although the Battle of Little Bighorn was ostensibly a rout of the uniformed troops sent by the American government to move the Lakota off their given land to make way for gold rush settlers, it was also the end of Lakota way of life and was the last concerted attempt to save it. The story is mired in myth, due to the death of all in Custer's party, though there were other battalions there led by surviving commanders. Due to the personalities involved, and the necessarily self-serving nature of their reports, these "truths" can be difficult to reconcile, one with the other. At the same time, the American government in Washington also had reason to interpret the facts so as to preserve the notion of manifest destiny, westward expansion, and the heroics (rather than the possible disgrace) of their fighting force. Surviving warriors from the Indians tribes were interviewed extensively in the years following the Battle, and much richness of detail (and contradiction with evidentiary evidence) can be gleaned from their accounts. What does come clear from the story as told by Philbrick is the great-man nature of Chief Sitting Bull, the spiritual leader and warrior of the Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux. Many wise words are attributed to the man from reports at the time, and Sitting Bull's attention always seemed to focus on the safety and welfare of his people, rather than on revenge or rage at betrayals. Later, after the battle recounted in such detail here, we learn that Sitting Bull did finally lay down his arms, and was shuttled to a reservation, where he was killed in 1890 by a Lakota policeman. The apparently first-hand testimonies of survivors of The Battle of Little Bighorn do not paint complimentary portraitures of their commanding officers. The sound, smell, heat, and intensity of the battlefield come to life in this account, and we squirm with the uncomfortable knowledge of the end even as we begin reading. Learning the details of any military engagement brings its own horrors, but the facts of this devastation is particularly poignant when realizing that troops were being led by one commander deranged with drink, and another who felt no sense of urgency. All fought bravely in the end, to the end.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 17, 2011

    Well researched. Lively and interesting material

    I have been reading stories about the old west ever since I read Dee Brown's excellent "Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee". This book belongs on the shelf right beside Brown's book. It is that good. I didn't think that Custer was a nice guy but after reading this book and finding out that he indulged in callously raping and murdering helpless native women and children I am convinced my earlier feelings were correct.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 9, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A Fine Job

    I still think Connell's Son of the Morning Star is the best book on the Little Big Horn, but Philbrick has nothing to be ashamed of. Like Connell, he understands that part of the battle's power lies in its mystery. He has used many sources and his notes are first rate, giving credit to the many who laid the groundwork for modern Custer scholarship. He is evenhanded, showing the Sioux as victims as much as winners of the battle. Native Americans are treated with respect and as real persons who made poor and wise choices in their struggle to survive the onrushing white tide. Philbrick reminds us that all side suffer in warfare and the price of victory and defeat can be costly indeed. He is an excellent storyteller.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 27, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    A clear and accurate description of the events leading up to the famous battle

    Drawing on all available sources, this book puts the story together of this famous and critical event in the "winning of the west". It is an easy read but provides meaningful insight into the how and why this sad battle happened.

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  • Posted July 30, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Another Angle

    Philbrick's investigation of the little pieces leading up to Custer's final days is unique. He investigates the process more than politics, the realities more than the romance.

    There is no discounting the impact that being tired and trail weary had on the men as well as the various egos among the officer core had on the dynamics of decision making. All told in Philbrick's comfortable style.

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