Yesterday I finished Nathaniel Philbrick’s book on Custer and Sitting Bull. I enjoyed the book for a number of reasons. First, the cartography was the best I’ve seen in any book on military history. I know what am talking about because I started my professional career drawing maps for the Defense Mapping Agency. I had just finished graduate school in Cartography at the University of Wisconsin that had one of the best such programs in the country at that time. I stayed away from computers because I wanted to draw maps by hand, which I did working in the cartography lab at Madison. A fault that I’ve seen in most maps in military history is that there are place names mentioned in the narrative that do not appear on any map. Also, there often not enough maps and they may simply be poor maps. Philbrick’s book is different. It has at least one map per chapter. Each map includes every place-name and locates every event described in the chapter. There is nothing to criticize about any of the maps.
Second, Philbrick’s does an excellent job of interweaving the narrative of the battle on the Little Bighorn with biographies of Custer and Sitting bulls and other major characters. The book is not arranged in a strictly chronological order. The story of the campaign in Montana is chronological. The biographical asides break up the chronological narrative so that it is not simply a this happened then that happened sort of story.
Finally, I just enjoyed the book. I found it as much a page turner as a murder mystery. One other point – there are a number of controversies surrounding the Last Stand. Philbrick doesn’t take sides. He describes the controversy and presents the facts. It’s up to the reader to decide about the controversy.
I’ve given the book five stars on Goodreads.com.