Custer's Trials

Custer's Trials

A Life on the Frontier of A New America

Book - 2015
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A new biography of Gen. George Armstrong Custer that radically changes our view of the man and his turbulent times. Historian T. J. Stiles paints a portrait of Custer both deeply personal and sweeping in scope, proving how much of Custer's legacy has been ignored. He demolishes Custer's historical caricature, revealing a volatile, contradictory, intense person--capable yet insecure, intelligent yet bigoted, passionate yet self-destructive, a romantic individualist at odds with the institution of the military (he was court-martialed twice in six years). The key to understanding Custer, Stiles writes, is keeping in mind that he lived on a frontier in time. During Custer's lifetime, Americans saw their world remade. In the Civil War, the West, and many areas overlooked in previous biographies, Custer helped to create modern America, but he could never adapt to it. His admirers saw him as the embodiment of the nation's gallant youth, of all that they were losing; his detractors despised him for resisting a more complex and promising future. He freed countless slaves, yet rejected new civil rights laws. He proved his heroism, but missed the dark reality of war for so many others. Native Americans fascinated him, but he could not see them as fully human. Intimate, dramatic, and provocative, this biography captures the larger story of the changing nation in Custer's tumultuous marriage to his highly educated wife, Libbie; their complicated relationship with Eliza Brown, the forceful black woman who ran their household; as well as his battles and expeditions. It casts surprising new light on a near-mythic American figure.--Adapted from book jacket.
Publisher: New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2015
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780307592644
Branch Call Number: 921 Custe
Description: xxi, 582 pages, 32 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm


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This extraordinary work won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for History and was a finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Biography.

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Jul 25, 2020

This account is so chronologically ordered that Custer’s last stand isn’t mentioned until the 40-page epilogue, and that means the preceding 420 pages are full of surprises (unless you are already an expert). Custer is shown to be extraordinarily ambitious, and his exploits back and forth across the continent bring him into contact with a host of historical figures I didn’t expect to find here. Always looking to grasp the brass ring, he was ever controversial in his time, and mostly held in disfavor since. His failings are clear to see here, but the writer evenhandedly presents his considerable talents and accomplishments as well.

May 26, 2018

Amazing book - T.J. Stiles' expert scholarship and crisp writing bring Custer to life in ways that surprise and educate. Custer was a man of contradictions - vainly heroic in battle, needy and deceitful at other times. He was from a family that supported Confederate slavery positions, yet he empowered a young freed slave woman to oversee much of his personal affairs. His strong-willed wife led efforts to rehabilitate his image - more successfully than the history Stiles relates would suggest is worthy. A must read.

Jun 25, 2016

Likely the finest biography I have read, certainly the most thorough telling of this man's fascinating life.

Nov 24, 2015

His last stand proves that a sufficiently incompetent officer can destroy his command, no matter how good. Archeological and eye-witness accounts available, if interested.


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