Compass

Reviews

The Last Stand is at once a work of prodigious scholarship and an example of popular history at its best. With a historian’s eye for detail, a professor’s gift for analysis and a journalist’s commitment to immediacy, Philbrick tells this oft-told tale with insight and panache.”—Richmond Times-Dispatch

“In The Last Stand, Nathaniel Phil­brick…offers an account of the Battle of the Little Bighorn that gives appropriate space to Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, Maj. Marcus Reno and others who fought that day. But really, Custer steals the show. How could he not? The man was a spectacular piece of work…. and The Last Stand will introduce him to a [new] generation….”
—Bruce Barcott, cover story, The New York Times Book Review

“Mr. Philbrick has done a prodigious amount of research and he’s woven it all into an evocative and cinematic narrative. He nimbly evokes the beautiful but unforgiving landscape that was this theater of war.”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“An engrossing, thoughtfully researched, and tautly written account of a critical chapter in American history. With strong narrative skill, offering broad context and narrow detail, Philbrick recounts a story and, in the process, dismantles old myths piece by piece.”—The Los Angeles Times

“Philbrick’s narrative gifts are such that although we always know what is coming, the inevitable clash between the Sioux and the Seventh Cavalry is terrifically exciting. … I found myself turning the pages faster and faster, unable to tear my eyes from the unfolding tragedy. …As a re-creation of a vanished age, a mesmerizing portrait of two extraordinary individuals, and a thrilling blow-by-blow account of a landmark battle, it is a terrific achievement.”—The Times of London

“After reading this even-handed, engrossing account of that fateful battle and the events leading up to it, I can promise you will want to see the lonely, rolling hills where it took place. Using the accounts of Indian warriors and their descendants, plus post-battle congressional testimony and Army archives, Philbrick gives the battle an elegiac retelling.”—The Providence Journal

“A writer’s angel is in his details, and…where Philbrick shines. …Philbrick’s sense of the unexpected and the absurd lurking in human affairs pays off…[He] carr[ies] his readers vividly into the madness of the moment.”—The Washington Post

“Philbrick’s great service is to sift through the bounty of original sources from both sides of the fray, factor in recent forensic discoveries from the battlefield and emerge with a documentary-like narrative that has all the aspects of a Greek tragedy…Immensely vivid.”—Book Page

The Last Stand is both a widely researched history of the ill-fated military campaign into Indian country in 1876 as well as a sympathetic attempt to capture the humanity of all involved. …History ambitiously written and sympathetically told.”—The Toledo Blade

“a fully rounded account…puts human faces on this tragic piece of American history.”The Columbus Dispatch

“Philbrick proves as fine a writer on land as he is at sea.”
—The Economist

“A scholarly and intellectual smackdown in which Philbrick holds his own against the voluminous literature on his subject already in existence. This book’s most lasting impression is of immediacy, strangeness, danger and doom, which Philbrick brings out in every rock, cloud, blade of grass and mountain range.”
–Chicago Tribune

“Incredible…Mesmerizing.”
Petoskey News

“an exceptional piece of historical reporting…readers can almost hear the hooves of the horses and taste the dust of the plains.”
Florida Weekly

“In the malleable hands of Nathaniel Philbrick, the fighting is slowed to freeze-frame clarity with the combatants etched in intaglio sharpness.”
The Star-Ledger

“Philbrick fills his tale with crisply entertaining observations… a clear and engaging panorama.”
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“The result of melding an award-winning author of considerable narrative skills with one of the most fascinating battles in American military history is a book that makes the oft-told story seem fresh, compelling and exciting.”
—Armchair General

“The Last Stand crackles with personality and descriptive detail.”
—Fort Worth Star-Telegram

“a taut narrative…Philbrick is a vivid storyteller.”
—Robert Birnbaum, The Morning News

“a winning combination of sure-handed pacing, gimlet-eyed pen-portraits and telling details amid the contextual big picture.”
—Newsday

“Philbrick spins a thrilling, action-packed recounting of the battle.”
—Minneapolis Star Tribune

“ambitiously written and sympathetically told.”
—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“Fresh and balanced. Philbrick renders the battle’s complexities and uncertainties in artful, transparent prose.”
—The Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Philbrick gives the battle an elegiac retelling…After reading this even-handed, engrossing account of that fateful battle and the events leading up to it, I can promise that you will want to see the lonely, rolling hills where it took place.”
—Miami Herald

“Philbrick pulls back the curtains to expose the real props and characters behind this uniquely American story.”
—The Florida Times-Union

“Riveting.”
—Mark Allen, Daily Mail (UK)
“Good historian that he is, Philbrick has made excellent use of archival resources – the critical apparatus alone runs to 100 pages – and the resulting narrative is unlikely to be bettered…it is as brilliant an example of combat reconstruction as one is likely to find in any history of this scope and ambition.”
—Trevor Royle, The Herald (UK)

“But what gives Philbrick’s book its greatest distinction is neither its CSI style research, nor its nautical subtext, but the willingness of its author to move beyond the evidence-based procedure of the conventional historian.”
—Clive Sinclair, The Independent (UK)

“Philbrick’s account of the battle itself is monumental, but it is his gifted observations that make this a great book.”
—Colin Gardiner, The Oxford Times (UK)

“Philbrick’s account of the battle captures the experiences of ordinary soldiers like Thompson and the Lakota warriors. He draws together those static and disconnected images and adds much supplementary evidence to construct a masterly narrative. Philbrick steals from camp to camp, describing the culture and traditions of the Lakota as well as the better-documented accounts of the 7th Cavalry. The Last Stand will, I am sure, be widely read this summer. It is gripping stuff and beautifully written.”
—Ben Wilson, The Telegraph (UK)

“Philbrick…revisits an iconic story and gives it modern significance. A vivid, colorful, fascinatingly circumstantial examination of a pivotal moment in American history.”
—The Times of London

“Philbrick recounts this story with the clarity, color and pace of a first-rate movie.”
— Raymond Seitz, Literary Review (UK)

“Philbrick has pieced together the various testimonies with commendable skill.”
The Daily Express (UK)

“Philbrick here takes on an oft-told tale, replete with its dashing, flawed main character, its historically doomed, noble Native chief, and a battlefield strewn with American corpses. While off his usual stride with a surfeit of unnecessary detail, bestselling author and National Book Award–winner Philbrick (In the Heart of the Sea; The Mayflower) writes a lively narrative that brushes away the cobwebs of mythology to reveal the context and realities of Custer’s unexpected 1876 defeat at the hands of his Indian enemies under Sitting Bull, and the character of each leader. Judicious in his assessments of events and intentions, Philbrick offers a rounded history of one of the worst defeats in American military history, a story enhanced by his minute examination of the battle’s terrain and interviews with descendants in both camps. Distinctively, too, he takes no sides. In his compelling history, Philbrick underscores the pyrrhic nature of Sitting Bull’s victory-it was followed by federal action to move his tribe to a reservation.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“A master storyteller’s vivid take on “one of the most notorious military disasters in U.S. history. In the centennial year of 1876, President Grant, intentionally slighting George Armstrong Custer, placed General Alfred Terry in command of the Seventh Cavalry’s campaign to force Sitting Bull’s Sioux and Cheyenne followers out of the Black Hills and onto reservations. For Custer, the country’s most famous Indian fighter, a greater indignity awaited. Philbrick fans, accustomed to his invigorating treatments of American history, will happily recognize an unaltered talent for fresh insight as he tackles one of the most written-about events ever: the Battle of the Little Bighorn. The author opens with an unexpected story about the riverboat journey of legendary pilot Grant Marsh up the Missouri and Yellowstone tributaries to provision the Seventh Cavalry and closes by following the harrowing return in the battle’s aftermath that carried wounded soldiers to the Dakota Territory’s Fort Lincoln. Philbrick (Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War, 2006, etc.) dwells instructively on the importance of the strikingly peculiar landscape-the rolling hills, depressions, heat and dust that contributed so mightily to the usual fog of war. The author frankly acknowledges the difficulty of piecing together the battle’s details, weighing contemporaneous accounts against those collected well after, resolving repeated inconsistencies as to how it unfolded. He establishes confidence in his judgments, however, by his meticulous portraits of the chief antagonists, rejecting caricatures of Custer, from blameless martyr to vainglorious fool, and of Sitting Bull, from murdering savage to Native-American saint. Philbrick supplements his nuanced appraisal of each man-they had surprising similarities-with deft depictions of subordinate players, including the drunken Major Reno, the brave but vindictive Captain Benteen and the calculating Terry, more responsible than any single individual, the author persuasively argues, for the calamity. A stirring, perceptive retelling of an endless fascinating battle.”–Kirkus (starred review)

“From the moment Lieutenant Colonel George Custer galloped out of sight on June 25, 1876, controversy commenced and continues, inspiring an immense and often minutiae-minded literature about the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Riding to the rescue of overwhelmed history buffs, Philbrick applies the skills of narrative synthesis that have produced best-sellers (Mayflower, 2006) and may do so again with this title. His storytelling ability especially challenged by this subject-for surviving evidence does not permit an unassailable reconstruction of Custer’s actions-Philbrick produces a fascinating integration of known fact and defensible speculation that should rivet his audience. Shifting between the movements of Custer’s cavalry regiment and the Cheyenne and Lakota village it was approaching, Philbrick both quickens the pace and flashes back to the lives of the principal characters in the drama: Custer; his subordinate officers Frederick Benteen and Marcus Reno; and on the Indian side, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. Although in the aftermath of Custer’s annihilation, contemporary American blame fell on the dead man, Philbrick arraigns Reno (for being intoxicated) and Benteen (for being slow to link up with Custer). However, Philbrick keeps hold of a hint that Custer let Reno attack unsupported so as to garner the glory for himself. Evoking such tantalizing details, as well as the fight’s tragic context of being the Plains Indians’ own last stand, Philbrick delivers a compellingly readable rendition of the famous battle.”
–Booklist

“After 2006’s eye-opening account of the fanatical pilgrims in Mayflower, Philbrick tackles another American legend. Neither the golden-haired general nor the Indian chief here are bloodthirsty warmongers, as they’ve often been portrayed. Both are top soldiers and natural leaders zealously looking out for their respective peoples’ interests. There have been so many contrasting accounts from both white and Indian witnesses over the years that it’s difficult to get a truthful picture of what actually transpired on June 25, 1876 along the banks of the Little Bighorn river. There was also such infighting and backstabbing among Custer’s senior officers that even their accounts are highly suspect. Philbrick therefore incorporates multiple perspectives for a very round portrait of events. Custer’s lethal errors were in divvying up his already meager lot of mostly inexperienced troops into smaller units for a multiangled attack, and launching an assault without first appraising the behemoth size of the enemy force. More than a detailed chronology of events-at which it excels-the book’s major strength is its in-depth portraits of the two combatants-it is Sitting Bull’s story as much as Custer’s. Both shared tragic and triumphant lives indelibly woven into the fabric of American lore. Philbrick humanizes history, and The Last Stand not only puts a recognizable face on the players in one of our nation’s most notorious events, but also provides insight into their hearts and minds as well.”–Library Journal