• The Last Stand

  • Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn
  • By: Nathaniel Philbrick
  • Narrated by: George Guidall
  • Length: 12 hrs and 12 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • Categories: History, Americas
  • 4.4 out of 5 stars (1,040 ratings)
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Publisher's Summary

The best-selling author of Mayflower sheds new light on one of the iconic stories of the American West.

Little Bighorn and Custer are names synonymous in the American imagination with unmatched bravery and spectacular defeat. Mythologized as Custer's Last Stand, the June 1876 battle has been equated with other famous last stands, from the Spartans' defeat at Thermopylae to Davy Crockett at the Alamo.

In his tightly structured narrative, Nathaniel Philbrick brilliantly sketches the two larger-than-life antagonists: Sitting Bull, whose charisma and political savvy earned him the position of leader of the Plains Indians, and George Armstrong Custer, one of the Union's greatest cavalry officers and a man with a reputation for fearless and often reckless courage.

Philbrick reminds listeners that the Battle of the Little Bighorn was also, even in victory, the last stand for the Sioux and Cheyenne Indian nations. Increasingly outraged by the government's Indian policies, the Plains tribes allied themselves and held their ground in southern Montana. Within a few years of Little Bighorn, however, all the major tribal leaders would be confined to Indian reservations.

Throughout, Philbrick beautifully evokes the history and geography of the Great Plains with his characteristic grace and sense of drama. The Last Stand is a mesmerizing account of the archetypal story of the American West, one that continues to haunt our collective imagination.

©2010 Nathaniel Philbrick (P)2010 Penguin

Critic Reviews

"An evocative and cinematic narrative." (The New York Times)

"A carefully historical account that is also a ripping good yarn." (The Wall Street Journal)

What listeners say about The Last Stand

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars

Disappointing

I expected to like this book more. It appeared to be well-researched, but the narrative itself was disappointing. Somehow I didn't engage. I listened carefully and found it somewhat interesting, but an episode in history that should have been truly exciting was instead a slog.

I felt the same about Mayflower by the same author, so perhaps my issue with the book is a matter of style. I was highly interested in both subjects so I'm sorry that I wasn't more enthusiastic while listening to it. The narrator was very good, but he wasn't able to overcome the writing.

34 people found this helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars

Interesting, but uncharacteristically weak

I have, over the past several months, become an ardent fan of Nathaniel Philbrick. He has a gift for weaving astonishing amounts of information together in a way that is convincing, fascinating, and deeply human.

I had high hopes for Last Stand after Philbrick's spectacular work on Valiant Ambition and In the Heart of the Sea. Philbrick's talent for storytelling combined with one of the most famous stories in American history seemed like a perfect union. I'm sad to report that the book did not meet my expectations.

To start, the book does a poor job of humanizing George Armstrong Custer. While Philbrick typically develops his characters rather deeply by delving into often unknown areas of their pasts, Last Stand spends only a minimum amount of time doing so for Custer. There is little mention of his childhood, his time at West Point, or his experience during the Civil War. These things are mentioned, but mostly only in the form of anecdotes--thin snapshots of Custer's deeper story. In fact, the book does a considerably better job of humanizing Custer's (admittedly fascinating) wife, fellow officers, and opponent, Sitting Bull. I appreciated these efforts, but I would have liked to delve deeper into Custer himself. By the time Custer died toward the very end of the book, I still felt disconnected from him in a way that greatly lessened the climax's impact.

Speaking of the battle, Last Stand takes an extraordinarily long time to arrive at the titular moment on the banks of the Little Big Horn. That delay would be fine if the chapters leading up to the disaster were focused on setting the stage for an emotional punch, but, with a few notable exceptions, they are not. Instead, Philbrick, a man with an innate talent for distilling vast quantities of information into digestible morsels, seems to get strangely lost in minutia--and especially geographic and hierarchical minutia--that left me feeling lost, out of my depth, and somewhat frustrated. Perhaps this complaint is simply a function of my own ignorance, but it's a significant enough departure from Philbrick's usual flow to merit a mention.

The good news is that the last section of the book about the battle itself is spectacular. So spectacular, in fact, that it actually amplified my frustration with the book's slow, meandering method of arriving at the event itself. Here, in the dusty, blood-soaked hills of Montana, Philbrick is at his best. And his best is so good that I would still recommend this book to those interested in the Battle of the Little Big Horn despite its shortcomings.

As a final note, I found the narrator adequate. Not spectacular, but adequate. His voice and inflection don't fit Philbrick's writing as well as those of Scott Brick, who narrates many other Philbrick audio books, but he does a decent enough job to avoid being a distraction.

I enjoyed Last Stand in the end, but I had to work for that enjoyment more than I would have liked. It's definitely not Philbrick's strongest showing. That said, it's still a cut above the average historical tone. Western history buffs should definitely take a look.

30 people found this helpful

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Details, Details, Details

Tough to follow due to a flood of dates, names, and locations on/near battlefield. Nearly 8 hours leading up to the battle, two hours detailing the battle, and the final two hours covered possible scenarios of what actually happened.

30 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars

A filtered rehash for these more enlightened times

I think the author, with some prior popular and successful works behind him, took the opportunity to put a heartfelt socially-correct filter on a hash from the prior-existent books on Custer and the lead-up to the Little Big Horn. Material facts are just not related, or they are nearly dismissed - like, not of any relevance to talk about lest some wrong impression take form. Specifically, the relevant incident about the abduction by American Indians of a settler woman of the Kansas plains was ameliorated by rehearsing only that the Kansas City newspaper said that what she experienced "was unspeakable." But the length of her captivity in the tribal society and what she experienced there, is known - and *he* knows, because it's in the prior-existent books. The author apparently found it better to just not speak of it.

35 people found this helpful

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Philbrick at his best

I'm a Montanan and loved this book by Nantucketer Nathaniel Philbrick. He tells the story of Custer's Last Stand with an historians eye for detail (with copious informatoin on his sources in the hardback book, not on the Audiobook). The narrator, George Guidall, is one of my all-time favorites. The characters---egotistical George, drunken Reno, unreliable Benteen, and the mystical Sitting Bull---all come to life. Philbrick doesn't avoid the controversies involving the Last Stand and presents the difficulty of discerning the truth from oral histories taken decades after the fact. Growing up in Montana, I can still remember the 1964 Centennial Sliver dollar issued with Custer's profile on the centennial of Montana becoming a territory. Philbrick takes a lot of the shine off the image of Custer in this book, but his portrayal, unlike the portrayal of Custer in 'Little Big Man' is believable.

1 person found this helpful

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Not for a Novice

The book jumps back and forth through history. This is not a problem with a physical book in front of you, but is problematic on audio. I found myself lost multiple times only to learn that we had gone back 10 years. The last 5 chapters are fantastic and offer great details.

17 people found this helpful

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important

really interesting. i needed a map honestly just to stay oriented to the hideous details but will look at this topic again. worth your time. kind of a sad, sick piece of history. fact is stranger than fiction and one opinion appears to have consensus, Custer was as strange as any real life character of his era.

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Well told story of Custer and Sitting Bull

I found this book entertaining and informative. The writer provides a nuanced view of what happened on the Little Big Horn, as well as events leading up to it. It helps to have the excellent maps from the book. I downloaded the ebook, screen captured the maps so I could refer to the maps as I listened to the book

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The Last Stand

I was really looking forward to reading Philbrick’s book about Custer and the battle. While it does a great job in laying the background history of the main characters on both sides, I thought it dwelled much too long on many of the minor players and their actions on that fateful day.

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last stand review

It seemed like the narrator read pretty fast or the narration was itself speeded up.

I got more information from the book by listening to it twice.

Lots of historical information. I was traveling through the general area of North Dakota and Montana while I was listening to parts of the book which made both the story and the drive more interesting.