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The Better Brother: Tom & George Custer and the Battle for the American West Paperback – July 12, 2011

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The Better Brother: Tom & George Custer and the Battle for the American West + Harvest of Barren Regrets: The Army Career of Frederick William Benteen, 1834-1898
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Turner; Reprint edition (July 12, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596527706
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596527706
  • Product Dimensions: 1.1 x 5.9 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,423,541 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“In THE BETTER BROTHER, Kansas-based historian Roy Bird draws on years of research to bring Tom Custer to the forefront… Fascinating.” —Wild West magazine

About the Author

Historian, fiction writer, professor, and longtime Custer researcher Roy Bird was born in Herington, Kansas. A graduate of Kansas State University and Emporia State University, he has written or edited more than a dozen books and over two hundred articles and short stories about Kansas and the American West. Roy is on the adjunct faculty at Washburn University. He and his family live on a farm near Auburn, Kansas.

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Customer Reviews

3.2 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Alan D. Gray on January 22, 2006
Format: Hardcover
By no means do I consider myself any kind of an "expert" on General Custer, the Little Big Horn fight, or the Indian Wars era, but over recent years I have read and studied scores of books on these topics, including those which promulgate a variety of contrarian viewpoints. So, it comes as no surprise that, having read all "the best" works at least once (and sometimes twice or more), I am now in the process of carefully and selectively endeavoring to peruse many of "the rest". Having just read Bird's work, I have to place this book on the life of Tom Custer in the second category -- "the rest" -- and consequently, despite my liberal inclinations, I've only given it a three star ranking.

I have nothing at all against a book targeting Tom Custer, mind you. Being a voracious consumer of Custerianna, I was glad to have had the opportunity to read Bird's work about this two-time Congressional Medal of Honor winner, George's loyal, rowdy younger brother.

Indeed, I suspect that any number of Custerphiles, who have perhaps already studied all or most of "the best" books available on Custer, the Little Big Horn fight, and the Indian Wars era and who, after doing so, and being still hungry for more material, will enjoy this read, despite its being full of typos and apparent word processing errors. (Really, a competent editor/proof reader should have taken another pass at this manuscript before it was printed and published.)

But again, I must say that this book is certainly not one of "the best" (although it's certainly better than any book that I might have ever contemplated or actually written on the Custer clan or the Indian Wars!).
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Judith on October 1, 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I wanted to like this book. When I heard somebody had written a book about Tom Custer, I was excited about reading it. He's been one of the Custer gang that has fascinated me for many years. Alas, I was disappointed by the book.

First and foremost, I didn't learn anything new about Tom Custer in this book. In fact, I think I know more about him than the author of this book. I didn't get any sense that the author had attempted to do any original research. He mentions in the afterword that new research was coming out about Tom Custer. I would have thought the author of a book about him would have done this research.

The author jumps to a lot of conclusions, and makes a lot of assumptions. He tries to sell the theory that Tom and Armstrong Custer had a lot of sibling rivalry between them. He presents no evidence to support this. He tries to use general psychology texts to support this idea, but it wasn't convincing..

The sources given in the bibliography are questionable--a TV Guide article, several works of fiction, and Bride of Glory, which is a fluff bio aimed at young girls. These sources are evident in the text as he refers to fictional works to backup some of his theories. I felt the author left his imagination run too free, and didn't have hard facts to backup his imaginings.

One can't really blame the author for wanting to get his theories about the Little Big Horn into his book. He's finally writing a book after what he says was two decades of being interested in the topic. It would be hard to resist putting your opinions in your first book on the topic. However, a lot of the time he seems to forget that the book is supposed to be about Tom Custer, not George Armstrong Custer.

I'm not sure who this book would satisfy.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Mccown on September 7, 2011
Format: Paperback
Roy Bird's book, The Better Brother, is, according to the author, the result of twenty-five year's research. I doubt that. It's a slim volume, lacking in many ways. In the bibliography, for example, the author demonstrates a lack of understanding of his references. He credits an article published in TV Guide as one of his sources, as well as novels. Equally disturbing is how the author uses fictional sources. Bird speculates wildly. He admits in an afterword, "[F]iction can sometimes accomplish goals that pure history cannot achieve."
The lack of maps is particularly amateurish. A map of Tom's movements during the Civil War--where he won two Congressional Medals of Honor in the last week of the war--his time in Kansas, the Black Hills campaign, the movements of 1876 leading to the battle, even a basic map of the Little Bighorn battlefield, would be obvious choices for a book of this kind, yet the author included not one. Indeed, for a book that explores Tom Custer's relationship with his more famous brother, there are only two photographs of the two of them, and precious few other photos.
Almost as bad, however, is the writing of the book. There's not much care taken with it. Margins, spacing, and other difficulties in the endnotes and bibliography should have been addressed. Someone should have insisted on a better version before accepting the final manuscript. Why so few pictures? Why no maps? Why the emphasis on fiction masquerading as fact? Why did the author believe twenty-five years' of speculation makes him an authority?
In the end Roy Bird's paperback looks like others on the store bookshelves. It's the appropriate size, typical weight, the same heft. It walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, looks like a duck ... but The Better Brother is a turkey.
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