The Brotherhood of Empirical Failure University of Nebraska Press, $25

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In 1876, Custer’s Seventh Calvary was defeated by the Lakota and Cheyenne tribes at the Little Big Horn; three years later, two British columns were virtually annihilated at Isandlwana, South Africa. Ever since, historians on several continents have noted the uncanny and eerie similarities between the two battles.

The first book on the subject, The Dust Rose Like Smoke: The Subjugation of the Zulu and the Sioux, 2nd ed. by James O. Gump, a professor of history at the University of San Diego, was published in 1994; the new edition expands and elaborates on several aspects of both campaigns and is enlivened by superb sketches and drawings from the period as well as newspaper and magazine headlines and illustrations.

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Custer and the Sioux, Dunford and the Zulus: Parallels in the American and British Defeats at the Little Bighorn (1876) and Isandlwana (1879) (McFarland Press, $39.95), written by Paul Williams, a native Australian and a TV and film producer, includes brilliantly reproduced photographs of soldiers from all the contending armies. The numerous maps in both books are models of clarity and precision.

Of the two, Gump’s book is more focused on the big picture, particularly
the similarities between the Sioux and Zulu experiences (in civil war, partition and eventual national disintegration). Williams spends more time on the specifics of the two battles, the similarities in terrain, in tactics that both the U.S. cavalry and British infantry disastrously employed, and even odd coincidences such as both the American and British rifles jamming when they overheated in combat.

Fans of American Western history and comparative history will want both of these volumes.

Allen Barra, author of Inventing Wyatt Earp: His Life and Many Legends

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