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Customer Review

299 of 315 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Shameful, November 6, 2012
This review is from: Custer (Kindle Edition)
0 out of 5 (shameful)

"Custer," by Larry McMurtry, promises to bring the complexity of George Armstrong Custer to life by illuminating his difficult marriage and his glory-seeking in an assessment of Custer's fame and the power of his personality while redefining the common understanding of the American West. This title is published by Simon & Schuster, ISBN: 978-1-4516-2622-3 as an ebook.

The author begins by explaining that his work will cut through much of the irrelevant guesswork that is common in most of the writing on Custer. For example, he seriously questions the necessity of discussing why one corpse was found with 105 arrows in it. It's irrelevant, he argues. However, in chapter 30, the author expressly raises that very question. After considering CPT Tom Custer's death, the author is puzzled as to why 105 arrows were found in a body and that this fact should really fascinate "students of mutilation".

The narrative then launches into a lengthy comparison of Fremont, a man who was once employed as a topographer. This rather long section seems to be more of a set up for character assassination than it does with serious historical engagement. The reader is informed that Custer abandoned his men, like Fremont. Custer was court-martialed, like Fremont. Custer wanted to be president, like Fremont. Fremont is not relevant to the purpose of the book. We never really find out why Fremont matters in the first place.

Many of the illustrations are carelessly mislabeled and most of the photographs have no contextual significance. One picture bears the text "Custer with his horse, Comanche" yet it is not a picture of Custer (it's Gustav Korn) and it's not Custer's horse (it belonged to CPT Keogh). The picture itself was taken long after Custer's death. Another picture is described as being Custer and the scout Curly in 1876. It isn't. It is a picture of the scouts Goose and Bloody Knife with Custer in 1874. Lastly, a photo of "Custer and Little Wolf" is actually a photo of C. Lyon Berg taken in 1908. Incidentally Charles L. Von Berg was a known "Custer battle impostor," documented in 33 Lone Survivors of the Last Stand (Custer Survivors 101: The Impostor Roster) by Ethan E. Harris [full disclosure: me, the reviewer], who claimed that he was the inspiration for Buffalo Bill Cody's Western tales. Why are those pictures placed in those chapters? What is the relevance? There needs to be some fact checking before Simon & Schuster unleashes this inaccurate study on the public.

Other examples of areas that need work are where the author claims General Custer wrote the famous last message, carried by John Martin, to Benteen. But Custer didn't write the letter. McMurtry even provides a picture of the note with the actual signature, not of Custer, but by the real person who wrote the note, and the historical record bears this out, of Lt. Cooke who was Custer's adjutant. Another is that this book claims Private Thomas Coleman was the first Soldier to arrive on the battlefield after the defeat. But this is far from true. LT Roe was the first US Soldier to see the carnage from a distance. LT Bradley, from Terry's command, was the first physically on the battlefield, even performing the first body count before reporting the fate of the 7th Cavalry back to General Terry. Details matter. It is careless to go to print without diligent research. This book is not a reflection of serious study.

Overall, I did not find any of this title's claims to be borne out in the text. I did not find scholarly participation with the subject. Much of what I read was conjecture or inspired by rumor. The errors struck me as minor at first--surely no historian can get every detail right--but error compounded error so much that I was overwhelmed by the careless mistakes.

Even the publisher's title summary appearing on the Amazon page claims that Custer attacked a "Lakota Cheyenne" village. Since my concerns about the book fall on the side of historical detail, I would like to point out that the Lakota are Sioux, not Cheyenne. The village was occupied *mostly* by Sioux, Arapaho and Northern Cheyenne. Additionally, to say that "his entire cavalry" was killed is nowhere close to acccurate. About two-thirds of the 7th Cavalry lived through the battle. About 200 Soldiers with Custer were killed at the north end of the village, but definitely not the entire unit numbering well over 600 men.

I do not believe this is a good introduction to the subject of Custer and the Little Bighorn battle. It does nothing to contribute to the works already available. It does not meet a single of its intended purposes. It holds no content that is new or revealing about the topic. Any correspondence to real history in this book is purely coincidental.

Almost as if the author knew the work was faulty are the final statements appearing after the bibliography where the author accuses most Custer historians of being "peculiar" and "cranky." Perhaps it is good to listen to cranky, peculiar scholars from time to time in order to avoid academic embarrassment.
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Showing 1-10 of 33 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 6, 2012, 1:51:00 PM PST
C2017 says:
150 arrows or 105 arrows?

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 6, 2012, 2:17:31 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 6, 2012, 2:37:22 PM PST
Ethan says:
Corrected. Thank you for pointing out the error.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 6, 2012, 5:20:20 PM PST
C2017 says:
Details matter!

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 6, 2012, 5:25:13 PM PST
Ethan says:

Posted on Nov 12, 2012, 12:36:56 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 13, 2012, 7:43:56 AM PST
An Old-Timer says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 12, 2012, 11:44:21 PM PST
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

Posted on Nov 21, 2012, 1:33:17 PM PST
strelnikov says:
Thanks for saving me the price and effort of retrieving this work. I would like to endorse the fairly recent masterful study of the battle by Nathaniel Philbrick, "The Last Stand." McMurtry should stick to running his over-priced "used" bookstores.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 21, 2012, 2:16:21 PM PST
Ethan says:
Agreed. Philbrick's work was great.

Posted on Nov 22, 2012, 11:46:43 AM PST
K. L. Hollis says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 22, 2012, 3:22:26 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 22, 2012, 4:06:04 PM PST
Ethan says:
Rival? That's funny. I've been secretly hiding my true identity to make a fortune off of a niche history topic with independently published books. You got me.

It's because I am so engaged with the topic that I am so critical of McMurtry. I have done a tremendous amount of research and now am very aware of the caution one must bear in mind when making assertions about historical events. I have a great deal of respect for people like Brice Liddic, Bill Blake, N. Philbrick and R. Utley (among others). Looking at my Custer library, I can only think of one book that is completely worthless: McMurtry's. That's *my* opinion.

So if I am currently working on a project that means my points are invalid? So you know, my "projects" are done. I am currently assisting some other "Custer authors" preserve their works. Glad they don't think I am in competition with them.

What is so refreshing about McMurtry's work anyway? The lack of unity? The lack of care? Also, I don't think my review attacked the author or his motivations. But you sure accused me of purposefully giving a poor review so I could enhance my own sales. I'm sorry you feel that way. But that bag doesn't hold any kittens, so to speak. I love new insights and new books on many topics. You are being unreasonable to me and you should delete your comment from this thread.

And thanks for advertising for me. My name is Ethan E. Harris. One of my "Custer" books is free on Kindle right now. You can email me privately by searching for me on FB, Google+ or Twitter. I'm also on LinkedIn and a few other places. Post publicly for that matter. I would enjoy the discussion and it would put an end to this banter on a BOOK review.

All you have to do is look at my other reviews to see that I give 1-Star reviews and 5-Star reviews. I've been known to do a range of them. Go ahead, check out my history. I looked at yours and found...nothing. My guess is that you know the author or you work for the publisher.

And then how do you explain the other 20 people that also gave this piece of drivel a 1 star? They must be motivated out of capitalistic greed, right?

Finally, I would also like you to know that after reading the book and finding it abominable, I called a person whose name would be recognized by anyone into the Custer history thing. I told him about some of the things that bothered me. I told him I was feeling kind of bad about being so negative. But, he assured me, McMurtry is well-known for not seeking input from other historians. He agreed that my conclusions were solid and to go ahead with the suggestions *to* the publisher. But obviously, the publisher didn't take my advice. I don't have a big name. I don't have any prizes for my books. And I really don't care. I tried to help.

At this point all I can do is let other people know that this book by Mcmurtry is a joke. If you want to give this as a gift to a Custer buff, don't. It will aggravate them. They will hate it. Then they will stick it in a closet and only bring it out when you visit, so as not to offend you.
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