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Last in Their Class: Custer, Pickett and the Goats of West Point Hardcover – March 25, 2006

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Last in Their Class: Custer, Pickett and the Goats of West Point + The Real Custer: From Boy General to Tragic Hero
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 500 pages
  • Publisher: Encounter Books; First Edition edition (March 25, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 159403141X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594031410
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #118,219 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"...stirring, often hilarious, frequently embarrassing biographies of men who may have been last but were first in battle later." -- Brad Miner, American Compass Book Club

From the Back Cover

James Robbins' Last in Their Class provides a fascinating look at Generals George Armstrong Custer, George Pickett, and other West Point under achievers who outside the academy found both successful and notorious careers. While Robbins laments the modern demise of the meritocratic system of stigmatizing students for low achievement, he also explores why and how the same audacity, individualism, and even occasional insubordination that earned a cadet low marks at school often later proved indispensable for officers in the real world on the battlefield. A much needed and timely investigation about the nature of military leadership.

Victor Davis Hanson, Senior Fellow, the Hoover Institution, author A War Like No Other.

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Customer Reviews

This book is how history should be written.
Actium Blue
Makes you appreciate the quality officers that West Point has produced over the decades.
John P. Kennedy
I highly recommend this most inspirational literary work.
C. Williams

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

49 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Actium Blue on April 8, 2006
Format: Hardcover
"Last in Their Class" is about those West Pointers of the early- to mid-19th century who literally graduated last. Does this matter? The author makes a strong case throughout the book, especially in the final chapter, that heroism, capability, and duty, are not simply confined to the top students; in fact, those "goats" who graduated last seemed to think outside the box better and be as well, if not more, well-rounded than those who graduated toward the top of their class. What makes this book truly interesting is the interconnectivity of those "goats" throughout their careers. Robbins deftly ties in the Seminole, Mexican-American, and Civil Wars and contributions made by the "goats." Fully half of the book is devoted to the Civil War and any readers interested in that subject will find more than enough material. Robbins also follows through with Custer's Last Stand at Little Big Horn. Interspersed throughout the book are lessons from America's 19th century wars, including public opinion, congressional budgets, and wartime news coverage, that are particularly applicable today.

In over 400 pages, I found no weaknesses but only one omission. A list of all the Goats in the index would have helped keep track of them through the reading.

"Last in Their Class" was original, extremely well researched, the narrative flowed easily and the characters such as Custer, Pickett, and especially Henry Heth, were brought to life. This book is how history should be written.
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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Joseph Pallone on June 20, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Here is a fine military history that informs us about the United States, and how our country was shaped by those who "stood at the foot" in class rank at the US Military Academy. Robbins describes in excellent and interesting detail how much of our national history pivoted on the actions taken by the Goats of West Point, and how "...the crucible of West Point produced men of many and varied abilities, which were then tested in the arena of life." Robbins shows us the Seminole War (the "War Without End") and how the threads of national policy that were touched and sustained by USMA graduates like Ephraim Kirby Smith (the Goat of USMA 1826) run through Little Big Horn, where George Armstrong Custer (the Goat of USMA 1861) ended his brilliant but sometimes questionable and inexcusably savage career. Along the way Robbins tells about the court-martial of Cadet Jefferson Davis and his distinguished service in Mexico, washouts like Edgar Allan Poe and James McNeill Whistler, Manifest Destiny, heroic Zeb Inge (the Goat of USMA 1838) at Resaca de la Palma, George Pickett (the Goat of USMA 1846) in the lead at Chapultepec and on a long field at Gettysburg, and their achievements in building America, averting war, and reconciling a divided nation. Robbins does much more than tell the stories of these famous Goats and those like Powhatan Clarke (USMA 1884) and Charles Young (USMA 1889) who distinguished themselves but are less than famous. He tells us about the richness of character, courage in the face of danger, daring, mischievous tendencies and audacity that seem to characterize those who worked to stay just above the line as Cadets when it came to academics and discipline, but "who persevered to live extraordinary lives of service and sacrifice."
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By C. Falzone on September 17, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Just finished this book, and it was imho enthralling, very hard to put down..its takes us on a tour of West Point graduates ranked as "immortals" (those being the bottom 10 of their class) and the Goat, the last in their class.,..some famous names were goats or immortals; Heth, Pickett, Custer, Kirby Smith the Crittenden(s) Grant ( whose worst subject was..Infantry tactics go figure) among many others..... Great reading regards the Seminoles wars, Mexican-American War the Civil war......the trials and tribulations at West Point, their pranks and punishments etc....many great complimentary bios to be found here, Whistler, Poe et al...all wound up with stories of their military performance's and stories regards their paths criss-crossing in the Civil war etc....a comparative analysis as to why so many of the Immortals and Goats had an impact all out of proportion to the top 5 and their relative ranks, which in the end, means nothing...
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Charles E. Rittenburg on June 7, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Last in Their Class" is wonderful book of popular history and a great read. Author James Robbins' greatest strength is how he can bring out the individual personalities of his subjects. Most of them are relatively minor figures of 19th-century American history with one common thread: each one graduated at the bottom of his West Point class. The "Class Goat" is the old West Point term for the man who graduated last in his class. Some of these men are well-known to most Americans, like George Armstrong Custer and Confederate General George Pickett of Pickett's Charge. Others will be readily recognized by history buffs, and some are relative unknowns. Each man's story is brought to life by the author. Also, by the time you finish this "Last in Their Class," you'll discover that you've covered a lot of ground in American history, some familiar and some not-so-familiar, from the Seminole Wars up to World War 1. I enjoyed this book as history, as biography, and also as a commentary on the nature of West Point and its system of education. Civil War buffs will especially enjoy the very human insights into several key figures on both sides of the conflict. "Last in Their Class" was recommended to me by other West Point graduates, and I recommend it highly to anyone who enjoys a good read in historical biography or military history.
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