Custer and his Times

I’ve just finished reading Custer’s Trials (2015) by TJ Stiles. It’s one of the finest pieces of biographical writing I’ve come across and I’m not surprised that an earlier work, a biography of Cornelius Vanderbilt, won the author a Pulitzer prize. Stiles tells the story against the years just before, during and immediately after the Civil War. Along the way we learn a great deal about politics, patronage and reconstruction with Custer himself weaving in and out of the story. Libbie Custer his wife emerges as an interesting character, politically far more astute than her famous husband. They cross the country from east to west, and vice versa together and separately; and there’s always something interesting going on, whether it’s visiting a flea circus or testifying before the US Congress. An excellent book even if you don’t find the man particularly interesting because parallel to the Custer story the reader learns much about a nation going through great change.

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