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Review: ‘Custer’ by Larry McMurtry

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Updated: November 14, 2012 10:25PM

Is there anything left to say about Gen. George Custer and his infamous last stand at the Battle of Little Bighorn? Yes, evidently. Just ask Larry McMurtry of “Lonesome Dove” and “Brokeback Mountain” fame.

McMurtry has long been fascinated with the notorious general and his long flowing locks and has finally done something about it.

After turning down the opportunity for years, the acclaimed Pulitzer Prize-winning author has finally written his own take on Custer and the legendary battle that brought him down. Aptly called “Custer” (Simon & Schuster, $35), McMurtry’s book does what dozens of others on Custer have not.

It cuts through many of the myths, including what was actually said at the battle on June 25, 1876. McMurtry doubts, for instance, that Custer’s famous cry, “Hurrah boys, we’ve got them,” was ever uttered.

McMurtry tells the story of one of America’s most famous — and important — battles in his unique and personal style in a series of short, chatty chapters that are accompanied by lavish illustrations and historic photographs.

In short, it’s entertaining and educational at the same time. McMurtry states his case early on.

“No matter what I write here, Custer’s fights will continue to engage historians,” he writes. “One of the duties of a short life is to bring clarity to the subject.”

And McMurtry does, not only zeroing in on the idiosyncratic Custer, but the rest of the colorful characters — Indian leaders Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull; military men Sheridan and Sherman and Grant; such legends as Buffalo Bill Cody; and Custer’s widow, Libbie, who was his PR agent for years after his death.

The battle was brief. So is this book. But you will enjoy the book more than Custer enjoyed the battle.

Gannett News Service

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