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Crazy Horse and Custer: The Parallel Lives of Two American Warriors

4.08  ·  Rating Details  ·  3,009 Ratings  ·  181 Reviews
On the sparkling morning of June 25, 1876, 611men of the United States 7th Cavalry rode toward thebanks of the Little Bighorn in the MontanaTerritory, where 3,000 Indians stood waiting for battle.The lives of two great warriors would soon beforever linked throughout history: Crazy Horse, leaderof the Oglala Sioux, and General George ArmstrongCuster. Both were men of aggres ...more
Kindle Edition, 469 pages
Published (first published 1975)
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Sue
Oct 03, 2010 Sue rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Chief Crazy Horse gave native Americans one of its few moments of triumph in its struggle with the white settlers, who in the mid-19th century moved across the country, shot the buffalo, and built a railroad which would make the Western tide ever more inexorable. “Custer’s last stand” achieved mythic proportions, and it firmed up US resolve to finish the Indian problem once and for all. Within a few years, the reservation system was firmly in place.

I personally don’t usually like reading descrip
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Eric
Oct 07, 2009 Eric rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Custer and his immediate antecedents were consummate crackers. Jacksonian Democrats, American expansionists spoiling for a war, any war. Settled long enough and far enough East to entertain romantic, Fenimore Cooper-ish images of Noble Red Men, but made impatient by the independence of the tribes that still existed, on the land still to be taken by whites. Northerners, and loyal Unionists when the time for fighting came, though untroubled by slavery while it existed, and absolutely opposed to bl ...more
Tom
Apr 21, 2011 Tom rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow. History has gotten so much better since I was in Junior High...

Immensely readable, Ambrose has written a wonderful depiction of the times based on the conflict between two immense, American heroes. He paints a vivid picture of their up-bringing, formative years and early careers that eventually and inevitably led to their day at the Little Bighorn. This history is fair to both: elegant and moving. We come to know and perhaps love both protagonists, and the tragedy of Crazy Horse's death is
...more
Tom
Aug 21, 2011 Tom rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love Ambrose, what a shame that he's gone. After a slow start (read a bit like a PhD dissertation but I wouldn't want anyone comparing mine) this was really fun. Like a lot of folks I had the impression that Custer was a buffoon. To the contrary he was a leader, motivator and while flamboyant at times not at all like what you've casually been exposed to. Much has been said of his last place finish in his West Point class. This was by design, he just did what he had to, but was surprisingly cap ...more
J Cravens
Sep 10, 2009 J Cravens rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: history buffs, anyone who wants to understand that people haven't really changed
Shelves: history
I loved this book because of its focus not only on historical events, but personalities and cultures. Ambrose looks at the European American culture of the time with the same anthropological eye that he does Oglala (sioux) and other Indian culture of the time, with lots of commentary, but no judgment, on either. He reserves his judgment for the military and political decisions by the men he profiles in the book (not just Crazy Horse and Custer) and he can be downright brutal (and right on!) in s ...more
Bob Gray
Jan 24, 2015 Bob Gray rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Custer was a fool. Crazy Horse was, and still is, a mystery. Ambrose brings them both to life in this parallel biography of two of the 19th century's most iconic American warriors. Brazen and self-obsessed, Custer was an unabashed careerist who rose to fame at the front of countless Civil War charges. Riding headlong into battle, saber raised, band blaring, he led thousands of Union army cavalry men to their deaths. However, when after the Civil War he became a leader of the Indian Wars against ...more
Tom
Dec 08, 2012 Tom rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I found this book to be excellent. Ambrose goes into good detail on how the Sioux Indians lived their organizational structure and their customs. I highly recommend this book if you have any interest in the American Indian. Other reviewers thought Ambrose was biased towards the U.S. Army I really didn't feel that way. The book does discuss the treatment of the Sioux by the Indian Agents and the Army. It seemed each had a different idea of what was the correct approach controlling Indian populati ...more
T.E. George
Oct 23, 2014 T.E. George rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As a child of the 50s, I grew up with the romanticized Hollywood version of Cowboys and Indians. My image of both was Randolph Scott, Fess Parker and more often than not some nameless actor who was less Native American than I am. Because my great-grand mother was half Cherokee, I proudly bragged to friends about the legends that accompanied her memory while arguing fiercely for my right to be one of the cowboys instead of a “dastardly Indian”.

Stephen Ambrose illustrates this dichotomy of my Amer
...more
Colin Darby
Aug 18, 2014 Colin Darby rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not Ambrose at his best. Clearly written earlier in his career, contains a number of passages of what felt like pointless bloviating on subjects like patriarchy, the morality of Indian policy, and so forth, while passing over subjects of equal relevance (the hunting to extinction of the buffalo herd as part of war against the Plains tribes comes to mind) and worth with a couple of sentences.

With all of that said, Ambrose on a bad day is more readable and informative than 90% of popular historia
...more
Emmanuel Gustin
I found this account of the lives of Custer and Crazy Horse well-written and pleasant to read, but somehow not entirely convincing. The problem is not one of factual accuracy, which I am not well placed to judge, and Ambrose had a rich amount of material to work with. The problem is more in the psychology of the people whose biography this is supposed to be, which feels a bit too rich in clichés to convince. These persons described here are romanticised archetypes, and perhaps that is what these ...more
Gregg Bell
May 17, 2014 Gregg Bell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Crazy Horse and Custer is a story of opposites and similarities. Two men from wildly different worlds collide as history forces them together. The book is fascinating as it explores the men's lives individually, and then, as they clash, collectively. The differences in the men's lives are apparent.

Crazy Horse is a man living free and easy, close to the earth, nature-smart, and satisfied with the ordinary life of a young brave. Custer, on the other hand, a West Point grad, is a man of military d
...more
Laura Lewandowski
I read this for a book discussion group. This is the first Ambrose book I've read; all I knew of him before was that he had been a patron of The Nature Conservancy when I was a volunteer for them in MS, around the time he was diagnosed with lung cancer. This was a very accessible book, not at all boring and I got the sense that Ambrose really worked hard to ensure he was fair to all involved, including warts and all, possible motivations, etc. I also was struck by his generosity to other biograp ...more
Lorena
Aug 11, 2015 Lorena rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Crazy Horse is as known as he will ever be, unless we manage to find his grave or a contemporary observation hidden in someone's old trunk. All the books I read about him go over the same ground, the difference being the perspective taken by the author. And of course, some writers are better than others. Ambrose is easy to read and brings his subject matter alive. However I am always aware that he is making most of it up. How can we know what Crazy Horse was thinking, or if he actually went into ...more
Michael Clemens
Sep 08, 2014 Michael Clemens rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Essentially two biographies in one, Ambrose traces the lives of these two figures through their upbringing, education, lives and loves, and only in the final few pages do their paths finally and decidedly intersect -- Custer falling famously in battle, Crazy Horse ignominiously a short time later. Neither man is drawn the way that my own limited knowledge of history would represent them: Custer, especially, whose name could be shorthand for "headstrong and arrogant." Both men are pitiable, and t ...more
Barbara Stoner
Oct 01, 2013 Barbara Stoner rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition


There's a row of books stashed on a bottom shelf of one of my bookcases where I keep books I intend to read but haven't as yet. I don't even remember where I got some of them, only that when I see them I think, oh, yeah. Wanna read that one some day.

One such is Crazy Horse and Custer: The Parallel Lives of Two American Warriors , by Stephen Ambrose, originally published in 1975. Finished it last week. In his introduction, Ambrose wrote,

[Crazy Horse and Custer] met only twice, on the battlefield
...more
Douglas Audirsch
I enjoyed this book very much. In addition to the cloud of the accusation of plagiarism that hangs overs Ambrose's works, it has some shortcomings. This is a dual biography of both Crazy Horse and Custer comparing and contrasting their lives. I enjoyed this format tremendously and believed it added to the work. However, it seemed clear from the beginning that beyond telling "the facts" and stating clear hypotheses, Mr. Ambrose showed his bias toward the Indian side of the story from the very beg ...more
Duane
May 04, 2012 Duane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
On July 4th 1876, the United States of America was celebrating its centenary while at the heights of influence and power. In the first one hundred years since its independence, the United States had fended off two British invasions, survived a brutal Civil War, and joined both its oceanic shorelines with a transcontinental railroad. Settlers were pushing westward and taming the vast wilderness in increasing numbers. Such expansion and the fulfillment of America’s Manifest Destiny seemed almost u ...more
Carolyn
Aug 19, 2013 Carolyn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle, history, biography
A superb joint biography of two warriors, each with fame and/or notoriety within his own society, who clashed with a sort of inevitability at Little Big Horn. Each knew the other by reputation and by sight, and each respected the other's skills. Crazy Horse was the better general, in that he studied his enemy carefully and knew what to expect, while Custer made the false assumption that the far-better-armed cavalry could wipe out any force of Indians: only one of 4 or 5 Indians had a rifle, and ...more
Jenna
Oct 17, 2012 Jenna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For someone (me) with relatively little background on the different Native American tribes, their geography, and how exactly the U.S. government went about extracting them from their native lands, this book was remarkably informative. Ambrose uses Custer and Crazy Horse as two specific points of focus in the broader story of the Great Sioux War, and spends a great deal of time setting the historical context before beginning on the war between the Indians and the whites.
I learned more from this b
...more
Mr. Kovach
Jul 20, 2013 Mr. Kovach rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-summer-2013
A very entertaining book about the parallel lives of Custer and Crazy Horse, leading up to their famous battle at the Little Bighorn River, but mainly concerned about their lives and careers before that fateful day. Comprehensive, fascinating, readable. I learned so much about both of these characters from history, but also about the worlds they lived in (leading to a classic case of a clash of civilizations), as well as many other famous characters from the day - native Americans like Red Cloud ...more
Al Swanson
Aug 29, 2012 Al Swanson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
No matter how much you think you know about these two characters, you'll learn something from this book.
Evenly divided between the history of both men, Ambrose does his best (and I think quite admirably) to do the storytelling without prejudice or bias. He both builds up and tears down both men equally.
I learned alot about the men, but far more importantly, about the cultures of the men. The actual way of life for both. That's what I read history for - to learn about the way people lived.
We l
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Richard
There are many books out there that individually cover Crazy Horse and Custer, and there may be a few others that combine these two historical figures into one volume. Ambrose's book, however, is one that covers so well each of these men from history and how their inexorable fates brought them together that the casual reader of history could very easily get by with just this tome.

Ambrose effectively breaks through popular myths about each character, particularly Custer, who often is erroneously
...more
Chuck Thomas
Jan 01, 2014 Chuck Thomas rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A story of two monumental figures in American history, and how their paths eventually crossed on June 25, 1876. Both Col. George Armstrong Custer, and Sioux warrior Crazy Horse, were similar people in that they were brave, heroic, and revered among their respective peers.

From his beginnings in eastern Ohio, Custer went on to attend West Point and make a name for himself during the Civil War. From there, he was appointed to lead the U.S. Army's expeditions into the Great Plains to neutralize the
...more
B.T. Clifford
Aug 20, 2013 B.T. Clifford rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Stephen Ambrose is one of the most readable historians I've ever come across, and Crazy Horse and Custer is a prime example of why. He gives these men life on the page. Rather than focusing on their battle at Little Big Horn and propagating the prevalent misconceptions of the men, he reaches back into their childhoods and beyond, into the cultures that created the men. He picks no favorites and presents the stories of both in great detail.
I particularly appreciated the work on Custer. This was t
...more
Casey Wheeler
Apr 28, 2013 Casey Wheeler rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, the-west
This is an earlier work by Stephen E. Ambrose. It is not written in the easy to read, story telling style of his later works, but in a more detailed and academic presentation. It is well documented with numerous notes including numerous map, photographs and drawings.
The book is divided into four parts. Part One is about the early years for both men. It covers Custer's life from his upbringing as Autie in Ohio to his colorful years and graduation from West Point. It also covers Crazy Horse's deve
...more
Ted Devos
Mar 16, 2014 Ted Devos rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Interesting parallels. I'm sure many reviews will note how racist this book was because they note that the Sioux were as primitive as all western tribes and that Custer had privileges, but that was what made each man what he was. I enjoyed the telling of the story and that both men had good and bad characteristics. Pitiful that such a great warrior had to die the way Crazy Horse did, I am sure he wished he had died like Custer (oops, thats probably a racist thing to say as well!!)
Dan
Jul 01, 2009 Dan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As with Ambrose's other books I have read this is a marvelously told story of two incredible men. I loved the detail and the author’s openness when it came time to make his best guess as to what happened. The way the clash of two societies played out in these two men is revealing of how it played out on the macro level as well.
I have yet to be convinced which was the civilized society and which was the savage. The European Americans with their undying drive for progress or the Native American w
...more
John Dolan
Jul 05, 2014 John Dolan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jim Mcclanahan
Jun 02, 2015 Jim Mcclanahan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've read most all of Stephen Ambrose's output. His WWII tomes have been particularly enlightening and informative. I wasn't sure what to expect from this early (1975) book. I needn't have worried. It had the author's trademark mix of surprising anecdotal material and exhaustive research to go along with his straightforward narrative style. I was especially gratified to see that he made good use of then current anthropological sources for descriptions of Native American Plains culture.

The overal
...more
Becky
Sep 01, 2014 Becky rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A simply wonderful book about two of the most intriguing men in our history, Custer and Crazy Horse. Ambrose writes, in alternating chapters, about the lives of these two men and then merges the two with the climax at Little Bighorn at the end of the book. I was fascinated by the depth of details that Ambrose shared. The book is well researched and written so accessibly that it was a joy to read. Highly recommend this book!
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Stephen Edward Ambrose was an American historian and biographer of U.S. Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Richard M. Nixon. He received his Ph.D. in 1960 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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“All that existed was precious in Crazy Horse’s religion—whatever a man did or thought was good, was wakan, so long as he obeyed his own inner voice, for that too was wakan.” 3 likes
“Burial practices illustrated the two men’s different outlooks. Custer believed a body should be buried in a long-lasting metal casket, thus removing the body from the ecological system by preventing bacteria from breaking it down and feeding it back into the soil. Crazy Horse believed in wrapping a body inside a buffalo robe and placing it on a scaffold on an open hillside, where the elements could break it down in a year or two. It would then come up again as buffalo grass, to be eaten by the buffalo, which would then be eaten by the Sioux, completing the circle.” 2 likes
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