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Publisher's Summary

Audie Award, Literary Fiction, 2016

The story of Jack Crabbe, raised by both a white man and a Cheyenne chief. As a Cheyenne, Jack ate dog, had four wives, and saw his people butchered by General Custer's soldiers. As a white man, he participated in the slaughter of the buffalo and tangled with Wyatt Earp.

©1964, 2014 Thomas Berger, Introduction by Larry McMurtry (P)2014 Recorded Books

What listeners say about Little Big Man

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It's a Good Day to Listen

There is one quality in an audiobook that transcends all others, regardless of author, genre, subject, etc. That is when the voice in your ears surpasses any voice you could imagine in your head. Little Big Man is a tall tale almost entirely spun by former Old West frontiersman Jack Crabb as a 111-year-old man, so the narration is crucial, and Scott Sowers just totally, absolutely nails it, maintaining the idiosyncratic voice of his character for nearly 20 hours.

Jack Crabb was there. Everywhere. Raised by the Cheyenne after his father's wagon train was overrun, reclaimed by a white family as a teen, and in subsequent years: shopkeeper, muleskinner, trader, buffalo hunter, card sharp, gunslinger, prospector, dandy, town drunk, teamster, and ultimately scout. He returns several times to the Cheyenne to resume his role as legendary warrior Little Big Man. Along the way, he runs into people he met before, like General Custer, Wild Bill Hickok, Wyatt Earp, Calamity Jane, Buffalo Bill Cody, et.al. In the end, he is the only white man to survive the battle of Little Bighorn.

This is revisionist history. Published in 1964, Little Big Man was one of the first books about the West to take the point of view of the Indians, to show their lifestyle in a sympathetic light, explaining practices that would seem savage and primitive to white settlers. To the credit of Thomas Berger, he shows all viewpoints in all their complexity, but clearly emphasizes that one side, the native side, took the worst of it as the relentless tide of American expansionism overran their lands. He also takes some time to reexamine the image of women, blacks and homosexuals -- way ahead of his time on all fronts

This is one my favorite books (first read in the early 80s) by one of my favorite authors (read every one of his books), and the 1970 film version with Dustin Hoffman as Jack Crabb is one of my favorite movies. I will argue witth anyone who says otherwise that all three -- book, movie, author -- are among underrated or unheralded classics that deserve more attention. So yeah, I'm biased. But the narrator could have soured it. Sowers enhances it so that I can now add one of my all-time favorite audiobooks to my list.

A word of caution. Written in the early 60s, before the term political correctness entered our lexicon, the language can be challenging. No profanity and no slurs directed at blacks or homosexuals, but plenty of cringeworthy descriptions and namecalling of Native Americans, as would befit someone like Jack who grew up with that language. No one can walk away from this book believing that the name of Washington's NFL team is anything but the worst kind of racial slur (unless they change to their logo to a red potato).

76 people found this helpful

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Classic yet fairly realistic tale of the old west

This is the story of Jack Crabb who's Cheyenne name is Little Big Man. It is told as a flashback of Jack as an 111yo man. It is an enjoyable recounting of the plains region circa 1850-1876 culminating in the battle of the Little Big Horn and Custer's last stand. The first half of the book is outstanding mainly focusing on Jack's time as a boy living with the Cheyenne after being adopted by the tribe. The descriptions of native american customs and lifestyle is realistically portrayed and quite interesting. Much is said about how native american ways and philosophy differs from "the whites". I always find this interesting to read about. The second half of the book is good but less interesting, sometimes being a tad long winded. There is a lot about frontier life and the life in early plains cities like St. Louis and Kansas City.

Narrator does an excellent job and gives the story an authentic feel.

5 stars for the first half of the book but 3 stars for the second half.

20 people found this helpful

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The best told story

Any additional comments?

If you like history of the American west, and a rip snortin yet profoundly beautifully told story by a narrator that will have you believing he is actually the character, then this is for you. It was my favorite audio book listen so far to date - and I have listened to countless books.

17 people found this helpful

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Still an amazing tale

I last read this tale 45 years ago. I found it once again irresistible. I plan to read it again 45 years from now!

13 people found this helpful

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Everyone should read this book.

This book should be required reading. It's a great story taking place in an amazing time in American history amongst some important American figures. This book is a classic.

11 people found this helpful

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Loved it like I knew I would.

This was a movie I wasn't allowed to watch when I was young. My parents were great. The book was just as great as I knew it would be.

9 people found this helpful

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Western Perfection

Loved it! Having grown up in South Dakota, I welcome any fiction or non-fiction that covers the natives or non-natives interaction and lives. This in particular is one of my all time favorites!

9 people found this helpful

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Superb!

This is a genius work, an American masterpiece, historically accurate, well-told fiction (?), funny, worthwhile. Be sure to stay for the prologue and commentary. See the movie, too, but get the full dose here!

8 people found this helpful

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fine &fanciful

Epic entertainment called an American masterpieces by Larry McMurtty. Good performance, well worth the time.

8 people found this helpful

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"I was on my way to becoming a white man again"

In the "Foreword by a Man of Letters" to Thomas Berger's Little Big Man (1964), the fictional Ralph Fielding Snell recounts how back in 1952 he came to record the life story of “the late Jack Crabb--frontiersman, Indian scout, gunfighter, buffalo hunter, adopted Cheyenne--in his final days upon this earth.” He also explains why Crabb was able to use ungrammatical and foul-mouthed English for his narration and formal diction for the speech of cultivated people like General George Custer and describes the 111-year-old Crabb's voice: “Imagine, if you can, the plucking of a guitar the belly of which is filled with cinders: a twangy note that quickly loses its resonance amid harsh siftings."

Crabb begins his picaresque western adventures by saying, "I am a white man and never forgot it, but I was brought up by the Cheyenne Indians from the age of ten." In his autobiography he often confronts the clash of white and native cultures in one way or another within himself or without. He relates things like being "captured" as a boy by a band of Cheyenne warriors led by the elderly chief Old Lodge Skins, becoming Little Big Man, getting adopted back into white society by the Reverend Pendrake and his wife, prospecting for gold, going into business and marrying a Swedish immigrant, working for the Union Pacific railroad, returning to the Cheyenne and gaining four wives, returning to white society, finding his "niece" Amelia, and tagging along with Custer for his last stand, after which his account ends at age 34 because he died recounting it at age 111. In the "Editor's Epilogue," Snell admits that he can't judge the veracity of what he transcribed, for Crabbe must "either be the most neglected hero of the history of this country or a liar of insane proportions."

Although the essential story of Arthur Penn's entertaining and moving film (1970) starring Dustin Hoffman closely follows the novel, there are many differences, most of which involve softening the book for the movie, for instance downplaying some Indian brutality and rendering the last "This is a good day to die" scene comical. The movie also adds things like Mrs. Pendrake's fall from minister's wife to prostitute, alters things like how Jack learns to be a gunfighter, and leaves out all together things like Jack's brother, buffalo hunting, and gambling. In short, people (like me) who postpone reading the original novel because they enjoyed the movie should know that the book is more beautiful, brutal, and complex than the film.

Most everyone in Berger's novel is flawed, especially whites (living falsely, massacring peaceful Indian communities, and running roughshod through Indian land in quest for gold, etc.), but not excepting the Cheyenne. They were capable of murder and rape when drunk and mutilation during and after battles and had quite a high opinion of their own culture, calling themselves the only "Human Beings." That said, the book does favor the Cheyenne, as when Old Lodge Skins says, "Human Beings believe that everything is alive… But white men believe that everything is dead, and if things try to live, white men will try to rub them out." As for Custer, although his “own opinion sufficed to the degree that he had no equipment for detecting exterior reactions” and he fought Indians with cruel measures (like killing their horses and burning their villages), Berger does not make him the cartoonishly megalomanical villain of the movie, but a more complex and at times almost sympathetic figure, as when Jack says, "Even though he was a sonofabitch, he was his own man, never whining or sniveling or sucking up to another."

My favorite parts of the novel involve Jack living as Little Big Man among the Cheyenne, because of Berger's fascinating and authentic-feeling depiction of Indian culture: dividing gender roles, accepting men who want to live as women, covering mouths when shocked, lacking curse words, counting coup, giving gifts, living democratically, finding supernatural explanations for natural phenomena, burying dead people on platforms in the air, etc. My least favorite parts occur when Berger goes out of his way to have Jack encounter a famous western figure without much relevance to the plot, as when Kit Carson and Wyatt Earp make excrescent cameos. I also wondered if so many as five chapters of the novel need be devoted to Custer's Last Stand.

But overall Little Big Man is a great read because of Berger's humor (like when Jack tries desperately to convince his former friends that he's Little Big Man), colorful characters (like Wild Bill Hickok, who lives constantly alert for someone trying to shoot him), apt philosophical statements (like "In any swindle there was two crooks, both victim and victimizer"), poignant thoughts on family ("A man's true relatives are scattered about the universe, and seldom if ever belong to his immediate kin"), and Jack's savory voice (spiced with expressions like "Well sir," words like "disremembered," and grammar like "we was a family").

In that voice, Berger does some great writing, like "Indians did not go around expecting to be swindled, whereas they was always ready for a miracle," and "Though the river had earlier known some blood, them red bursts and filaments never last long in a flowing stream, but join the mix and move on. And some place a thousand miles away, a fellow will drink himself some water and unbeknownst imbibe a particle of somebody else's juice of life."

The audiobook is perfectly read by two skilled readers, David Aaron Baker (a prissy and pedantic Snell) and Scott Sowers (a dry and old Crabb).

In his "Introduction" to the novel (put in the audiobook after Snell's "Epilogue") Larry McMurtry says that the western myth Berger was attacking in his "American classic" nevertheless came through energized. People interested in the source book of the movie or in satiric and frank looks at the wild west or in stories about white people living among Indians should like Little Big Man.

7 people found this helpful

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  • MR LEWIS-GEORGE NASH
  • 06-29-20

An entertaining romp

Throughly enjoyed this book and would definitely get the sequel in the future.
The narration really adds to this whimsical historical fiction. The writer is having fun and he throws in plenty of well known wild west characters yet the story is quite strong and has you in an array of emotion in amongst the humour.
Worth a listen without doubt.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Banjo0615
  • 01-17-15

Never gets old

I loved this tale first time I read it and enjoyed the performance. A great story read and performed well

1 person found this helpful

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  • Mark Kelly
  • 09-14-19

Humorous Revisionist Western

Funny, but thoughtful look at the at the old west from all sides. I particulrly enjoyed the perspectives of the life of a plains indian. The fast pace, enormous scope and humorous tone of the book bely the fastidious research that must have gone into it. One can see why Marlon Brando bought the film rights, why Dustin Hoffman jumped at the lead role and why Larry McMurtry wrote the accompanying essay.

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