‘Custer’ story best suited for casual fans

David Martindale / Fort Worth Star-Telegram /

“Custer” by Larry McMurtry (Simon & Schuster, $35)

The great Larry McMurtry has written a book about Custer and the Battle of Little Bighorn.

But he hasn’t written THE book about Gen. George Armstrong Custer. In fact, he barely even tried.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Lonesome Dove” more or less acknowledges this within the pages of his skimpy new biography/coffee table book, “Custer.”

In one chapter, McMurtry advises readers to check out works by Evan Connell, Robert Utley, James Donovan and Nathaniel Philbrick if they want to get the full story about Custer’s Last Stand.

“Read these four books,” he writes, “and you can consider yourself very well informed about Custer, his men, the Indians and the battle itself.”

Not surprisingly, this quote cannot be found on the cover in bold letters.

Yet inside, McMurtry comes clean, admitting that he walked the Little Bighorn battlefield in Montana, the site of one of history’s most infamous military catastrophes, only twice.

If he’s unwilling to put in the legwork to gather every last nugget of Custer lore, McMurtry can hardly stake a claim to having written the last word on the subject.

At best, “Custer” is like a CliffsNotes version of the story of an arrogantly reckless military leader and his inevitable comeuppance.

To be fair, this is a guide written by a gifted wordsmith. He is Larry McMurtry, after all. What’s more, it’s also a richly illustrated volume, filled with wonderful paintings depicting Custer’s Last Stand and archival photos of Custer and his contemporaries.

“Custer” simply isn’t the kind of book that sweats the details.