The last time I read a book about Custer was when I picked up a short biography as a Jr High student - too long ago. He'd been mostly out of sight/out of mind since then, until I heard about Nathaniel Philbrick's latest. As a big fan of Mayflower, I thought this would be a great opportunity to refresh myself on this larger-than-life figure.
In The Last Stand Mr Philbrick is at his best in creating opinions about the key players. Many reviewers criticize his depiction of Custer as an egomaniac, but to me he came off less as an "egomaniac" and more of a hard-charging, ambitious leader - the traits may be very similar, I suppose. The biggest impact, though, was in his depictions of Reno and Benteen. I found myself actually getting angry at those two - for pettiness, for incompetence, for a host of reasons. The author's attempts to be (or at least appear) unbiased towards these two are not subtle at all, but there is no doubt where Mr Philbrick assigns responsibility in the 7th's failure at Little Bighorn.
That said, the narrative of Reno's charge, stall, and retreat is the best storytelling in the book. It was there that the book went from semi-interesting to captivating. However, the majority of the book, for me, suffered from a constantly shifting timeline. Being too linear is boring, but I felt Mr Philbrick went to the well several times too often in visiting the past to explain the current behavior. Certainly in the case of Custer's last stand, in the absence of US Army survivors who knew what Custer planned and ordered, one has to use past behavior to surmise what decisions may have played out. Elsewhere, though, it got to be a bit much.
All said The Last Stand was a decent survey of the Battle of the Little Bighorn, the events leading up to it, and the Lakota's own last stand. For the most part it's not as well told a story as Mayflower up to Reno's charge, but really comes into its own in the final scenes....Continua