Last year, I was helping a patron with reference request for the Battle of the Little Bighorn. I was a bit surprised we didn’t have the classic Son of the Morning Star. I talked to Julie about it, and she bought it to add to the collection. Thanks so much, Julie!
I’ve blogged on here before about my interest in George Custer, a historical figure I don’t particularly like but find endlessly fascinating, and my longtime love for this particular book. This book is not for someone entirely new to the battle–Connell doesn’t write about it chronologically, thought there is method to the madness of the organization–but he writes lyrically, beautifully, entertainingly, and thoughtfully about one of the most famous events in American history.
Connell, in a move that seems counter-intuitive at first, starts after the Battle of the Little Bighorn had ended. He then jumps far back in time to provide biographical sketches of the major players, both with the Army (including but not limited to the controversial, complex Custer, his unfortunate and much-maligned second-in-command Major Reno, and his bitter rival and third-in-command Captain Benteen) and among the Native Americans (ranging from the politically savvy leader Sitting Bull to the cryptic war chief Crazy Horse to the fierce warrior Gall). He then eventually works his way forward, through Custer and the Seventh Cavalry’s early years on the Plains before focusing more specifically on the lead-up to the battle.
In many ways, the book functions as a collection of essays–though they’re not essays or even clearly defined chapters–about all things connected to the battle, from the conflicting accounts of what happened to reflections on the brutality of life on the Plains to examinations of Lakota culture. The result is an endlessly fascinating read, spiced with Connell’s dark wit, keen eye for memorable detail, extensive research, and engaging writing style.
A major point of the book is examining the various contradictory claims about what happened during the battle, and Connell is fair-minded in how he approaches the topic. Sometimes, he comes to well-reasoned conclusions about what the likely truth is–other times, he just admits that the answer is one known only to the participants and lost to time.
This book is not for the squeamish–Connell’s knack for memorable detail extends to some rather gory descriptions–and again, it is probably not a good first read for someone on the Battle of the Little Bighorn. But I unreservedly recommend this book. I’ve read it three times and perused it countless times, and it is one I find myself wanting to reread every few years.
Recommended for those who enjoy history but don’t require it to be chronological.
P.S. If you’d like to read more about the battle but this book sounds a bit too daunting to start with, I’d suggest Nathaniel Philbrick’s The Last Stand as a good starter. Philbrick is a superb writer in his own right, and he provides a well-researched, highly readable, and chronological account of the battle. (His writing reminds me of Jeff Guinn, which is no small compliment coming from me!) We have Philbrick’s book in both book and audiobook form.
What historical event do you find endlessly fascinating? What’s your favorite book on the Battle of the Little Bighorn? Are you a Connell or Philbrick fan? Tell us in the comments! As always, please follow this link to our online library catalog for more information about either of these items.