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A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn - the Last Great Battle of the American West

4.6 out of 5 stars 218 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0316155786
ISBN-10: 0316155780
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this labor of love, Donovan collects the multiple threads that led to the 1876 massacre at Little Big Horn. By the 1870s various American Indian tribes ignored the American government's edict to relocate to reservations. Growth in pioneer settlements had produced so many clashes that western commander Philip Sheridan ordered three army columns to converge on an immense Indian encampment in southern Montana Territory. Donovan's eye-opening description of these cavalrymen contradicts the Hollywood image. These troops were untrained, inexperienced in individual combat and poorly equipped. Custer, the first to encounter the enemy encampment, split his forces before attacking. This tactical error ensured that some units would survive the fighting, here described in vivid detail. Custer's last stand became the Indians', too. Though the army was happy to blame the debacle on the dead Custer, the battle's survivors banded together to ensure no reputation went tarnished in public hearings. The author makes a good case for Custer as scapegoat by portraying him as a likable Civil War hero, flamboyant publicity hound and more experienced Indian fighter than most of his men and all of his commanders,. Exhaustive research, lively prose and fresh interpretation make for a valuable addition to literature on this otherwise well-trodden historical event. (Mar. 24)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"Gloriously free of the sociopolitical agendas and rhetorical cant that re-forms around Custer and the battle with each new decade." ---Los Angeles Times --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (March 24, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316155780
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316155786
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (218 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #101,148 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Bruce Trinque VINE VOICE on March 16, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
James Donovan's "A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn: The Last Great Battle of the American West" is not a book aimed primarily at the serious student of the Battle of the Little Bighorn. There are numerous books published each year about this famous battle, but most of them are full of dense, intricate arguments about quite narrow aspects of the historical event and really only of interest to -- or even intelligible by -- the serious Little Bighorn student (I should know -- I am one; and I completely understand that many works that I find fascinating would inevitably be rated as "unreadable" by most readers.) Donovan's book is something else entirely: a thorough, highly detailed narrative, drawn from primary sources (not just a tired rehash of secondary accounts, as is too often the case with such books), mountains of evidence carefully sifted and weighed, resulting in a judicious, well-balanced, fair-minded analysis of what actually happened.

It's a big book -- nearly 400 pages of text plus voluminous and valuable source notes -- that provides background and context and also vivid word portraits of personalities and activities. I consider it be quite simply the best available account of the Little Bighorn for the intelligent general reader who wants to know what was what and who was who, without those biases and distortions so common in writings about Custer and his last battle.

In the book's foreword, Donovan comments that he has departed from the strict historical record only in the area of the part played by Custer's direct command after he had sent his last messenger. Of necessity, any account of those activities requires interpretation of highly conflicting evidence and of some plain-old educated guesswork -- and James Donovan has done a superlative job of crafting a reasonable, plausible account of what happened.
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Format: Hardcover
I'm a junkie on this subject. Have read most of the major books on the battle, so I'd say, honestly, I wasn't prepared to be impressed. But I feel compelled to write a review here because I'm so pleasantly surprised. This topic has been well published, but this new book is GREAT. This author must have done some serious digging, because this book includes material I've never seen in any other book. Robert Utley was right about this book (if you're not a regular of the genre, he's the dean of writers on the American West). He's quoted as saying 'the research into firsthand sources is broader and deeper than I have ever seen'. To Custerphiles like myelf, that says something.

There IS a lot of information here, but it's skillfully blended into the narrative, and the author did a good job of synthesizing all the material (the Indian and white accounts, and the new archaeological and forensic research and analysis from the past few decades). It also seems like the author went to great lengths to show the Indian side of the story, which is a plus.

As you'll see, the book contains 83 pages of notes. But don't let that fool you; it's not a dry, academic type of read at all. (In fact, I'd say it's better written than anything else I've read on this subject.) And there's a lot of extra supporting material in all those notes, if you want to read them. But, notes or no notes--this is just a great read, and a wonderful new entry in the field. Good job, Mr. Donovan. (And, by the way, your publisher did a nice job, too. I'm a "book" person, and this book is quite handsome, both inside and out.)
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
When I saw a new book listed for publication on the topic of the Little Bighorn Battle a few months ago I was enthused. Let's face it, for those of us committed to this historical event, there's never enough to read. A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn-The Last Great Battle of the America West doesn't disappoint either.

James Donovan's treatment is fair and detailed. As pointed out in other reviews, there is a lot of information included. Donovan also avoids the traps sprung on so many modern historians when they attempt to moralize the battle, Custer, and the U.S. Army. It has been well established after the digs of the 1980's that, contrary to so many theories, the 7th Cavalry was not well armed, and from modern analysis of the battle field did not conduct themselves as a well trained unit would have. Donovan uses this information, and also guardingly includes the accounts of the Indians present at the battle.

I also have to compliment Donovan on his ability to provide context to the battle itself and to the United States at the time. His ability to provide strong narrative also makes the book read like a novel at times. In places, A Terrible Glory is a real page turner.

The copious and well organized notes will also be of interest to the serious student of the battle. A Terrible Glory isn't for the casual reader though it is written in an easy style. Well researched and even handed, A Terrible Glory is highly recommended.
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Format: Hardcover
For nearly a century and a half, the Battle of Little Bighorn has been a part of our nation`s collective knowledge and language, an event used as a metaphor for everything from foolhardy determination to one last, heroic quest. Even those who don't know of Custer's achievements in the Civil War or his desire for political office know that he was front and center in the most famous massacre in American history.

Although many accounts of the battle exist, James Donovan`s "A Terrible Glory" claims to be the first book to relate the entire story, and the first to include new findings which significantly alter the perception of this battle, the military response to the events and the attraction the public has had for the great mystery of what happened in Custer's final hours.

Donovan weaves overwhelming research and detail into his narration, often pausing and backing up to paint the full picture of the events as they develop. His characters, from Custer to Crazy Horse and General Grant, are presented with the depth of a Larry McMurtry novel, a monumental achievement in recreating men who died over a hundred years ago. He approaches the battle from all angles, allowing the different stories to slowly build toward their inevitable clash.

The marriage of captivating story with enchanted researcher/writer often proves to be an incendiary combination. Donavon's meticulous approach and seemingly total immersion into writing this story create the feeling that the author rode alongside the subject of his life's work. With "A Terrible Glory", we ride with him.
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