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UNTIL THE LAST TRUMPET SOUNDS, by Gene Smith, Houghton Mifflin, 672 pages, $45.

General of the Armies John Joseph Pershing–the only soldier in American history to have worn six stars–was a martinet who pushed himself and his men hard. He commanded black troopers of the 10th Cavalry (Buffalo Soldiers) on the frontier, battled Moro insurgents in the steamy Philippine jungles, led the unsuccessful pursuit of Pancho Villa in Mexico in 1916, and whipped the raw, ill-equipped American Expeditionary Force into shape so that it could contribute to the Allied victory in 1918.

Yet, as Smith writes in this definitive biography, “Black Jack” Pershing had a human, sensitive side. A one-time schoolteacher who went to West Point to get a top education for free, Pershing was a tardy and mediocre cadet, and yet after his leadership role in France he was elevated almost to sainthood. He dealt with the Indians and the Moros honestly and tried to understand their ways. And he was a legendary ladies’ man. Despite some rambling, medieval-style sentences, Until The Last Trumpet Sounds is a well-crafted, richly woven, and riveting study of a great soldier.

Michael D. Hull writes for various military publications.