First off, I almost never read these kinds of books that are so beautifully laid out with coffee table excellence in terms of appearance. But this is Larry McMurtry and not just an unsung researcher or whoever assembles those books that we rarely read but love displaying. The Pullitzer Prize-winning McMurtry has given his love of the all things western one last long embrace.
McMurtry claims to personally own approximately one thousand volumes of Custer literature. Despite the brevity of his career, he was a man much written about. What’s interesting is that the book reads as if an elderly grandfather is simply talking to you, telling stories. Because of his lifetime of interaction with western history, McMurtry is more than acquainted with the cast of characters and he has opinions about all of them. On the other hand, elderly grandfathers sometimes ramble and repeat themselves and mix up their facts as this amazon.com reviewer notes.
Pretty Pictures, Nice Bibliography Approach this book as you would your crazy old uncle who corners you at the family gathering and begins to tell a story. You realize he has all the facts wrong, that he is rambling from point to point, that he is confusing characters in the story with each other--but you listen because you love him and don't want to hurt his feelings. Take this book with a grain of salt, look at the pretty pictures (ignoring the ones that are mis-labeled), and, if you have not already done so, read the real Custer books mentioned in the bibliography.
Frankly, I enjoyed the stories and the informal manner in which the Custer tale is presented. I liked the feel of the paper. I liked the illustrations, even if a couple were mis-labeled. Typos, and I did catch a couple mistakes, would be a publisher's fault I would think. That 40 of 83 reviewers at Amazon.com gave it a one star rating surprised me. Here’s another reviewer who cites the rambling.
Senile dementia or shameless exploitation This book reads like it was dictated and transcribed with no revision. It is hopelessly disjointed, rambling on, at times almost a stream of consciousness. In no way could this ever be considered an historical document. He simply repeats many of the conflicting accounts of "the battle", Custer's early career, his marriage, the "taming of the West"; his conclusion, over and over again is "we'll never know". If you know anything about these subjects, you will find this to be on an elementary school level.
In the aftermath, his wife Libby wrote several books and countless letters attempting to lay the blame for this disaster at the feet of Major Reno who purportedly was to bring his company of men up from the south. Custer had no clue how many thousands were gathered there and Reno and his men were lucky to have escaped with their hides. After many years of being smeared, Reno requested a Court of Inquiry and was exonerated. Alas, his troubles didn’t end there, but it’s Custer’s story being told and Reno has to leave the stage.
Meantime, if you're interested in re-visiting the Old West and see this book in the biography section of your library, check it out. For more about Custer, the bibliography of McMurtry’s book will take you well on your way toward a broader understanding of a very unfortunate chapter in our history. I refer here to the Indian Wars whose legacy leaves us much to be ashamed of.
As for the critics at amazon.com, I have no regrets about my purchase. I may even read it again.
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