Wednesday, January 27, 2021

James E. Mueller's "Ambitious Honor"

James E. Mueller is Professor of Journalism at the University of North Texas. A veteran reporter himself, he is the author of Towel Snapping the Press: Bush's Journey from Locker-Room Antics to Message Control and Tag Teaming the Press: How Bill and Hillary Clinton Work Together to Handle the Press.

Mueller applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Ambitious Honor: George Armstrong Custer's Life of Service and Lust for Fame, and reported the following:
Page 99 begins with a quote from a letter Custer wrote to his wife, Libbie. Custer told her that the newspapers are praising him, but the recognition is only important to him because it would make her proud. Page 99 then quotes a newspaper story that paints a florid word picture of Custer’s “golden locks” and cavalier-type uniform: “Whenever he orders a charge, he always leads in person, and bursts upon the enemy with a yell equal to that of any of the Rocky Mountain aborigines.” The page quickly segues into an account of Custer in action at the beginning of the 1864 battle of Trevilian Station, a fight in which his command charged excitedly to capture a Rebel baggage train but was in turn surrounded by the enemy, foreshadowing what would happen to him at his famous Last Stand in 1876. Page 99 ends with Custer determined to fight his way out of the trap.

The test works fairly well because page 99 includes a mix of press coverage, Custer’s attitude toward his celebrity, and a historical account of his actions in the battle, including a quote from his official report. The book relies heavily on Custer’s own writings—including letters, newspaper and magazine articles, and his official reports—to demonstrate that he was an imaginative, engaging writer who had the soul of an artist and a passion to lose himself completely in whatever he was doing at the moment. Page 99 shows that he was aware of his own celebrity and knew how to cultivate it. It shows his passion for the great love affair he had with his wife. It shows his enthusiasm sometimes got him in trouble.

Other passages of the book explain these themes more explicitly, but page 99 gives an impression of what the book is about.
Learn more about Ambitious Honor at the University of Oklahoma Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue