Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Stephen Edward Ambrose’s books are among the most popular historical narratives written for general readers. Ambrose was the second of three sons born to Stephen Hedges Ambrose, a family physician, and Rosepha Trippe Ambrose. He grew up and attended public school in Whitewater, Wisconsin. Two years of high school Latin, according to Ambrose, taught him the importance of verbs and proper grammar.
After graduating from high school, Ambrose enrolled at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and planned to join his father’s practice at Whitewater after acquiring his medical degree. At the university, he was a member of the naval ROTC as a freshman and the army ROTC as a sophomore. However, Ambrose switched his major from pre-med to history after taking an American History course from Professor William B. Hesseltine, an effective teacher and scholar. The study of history became Ambrose’s passion.
Ambrose earned his B.A. degree in 1957 and in the same year married Judith Dorlester; she died in 1966. In 1958, Ambrose received his M.A. degree at Louisiana State University, where he studied under the eminent historian T. Harry Williams, who served as another role model for Ambrose. Returning to the University of Wisconsin, Ambrose completed his Ph.D. in 1963, studying under his old professor, Hesseltine.
From 1960 to 1964, Ambrose was an assistant professor of history at Louisiana State University at New Orleans (now the University of New Orleans). He wrote his first book on General Henry Halleck, President Abraham Lincoln’s chief of staff, in 1962. A key event occurred after its publication: President Dwight Eisenhower was impressed with the book and Ambrose’s writing style, so he asked Ambrose to edit his papers. Ambrose eagerly accepted, and this event marked the beginning of decades of research and writing about Eisenhower’s life.
Ambrose took a position as an associate professor of history at The Johns Hopkins University in 1964. In 1969, he became Ernest J. King Professor of Maritime History at the United States Naval War College. In 1970, Ambrose served as Dwight D. Eisenhower Professor of War and Peace at Kansas State University. In 1971, he accepted the position of professor...
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Stephen E. Ambrose was born on January 10, 1936, in Decatur, Illinois. He grew up in the small town of Whitewater, Wisconsin. Ambrose’s father was a doctor, and Ambrose headed to the University of Wisconsin at Madison, intending to pursue an undergraduate degree in pre-med. However, an American History course inspired Ambrose to switch his major. After earning his bachelor’s in 1957, Ambrose went on to earn his master’s degree at Louisiana State University the following year. He returned to Wisconsin for his doctorate, which he completed in 1963. Ambrose has taught at institutions including Louisiana State University (LSU), Johns Hopkins University, and the University of New Orleans. Ambrose retired from the teaching profession after thirty years.
While still in graduate school, Ambrose edited and published several books focusing on the military. While teaching at LSU, Ambrose received a phone call from an admirer of his biography of Civil War general Henry Halleck. That admirer was former president Dwight D. Eisenhower, who appointed Ambrose to edit his papers. This lifelong association was prodigious for Ambrose; he eventually published numerous books, including a multi-volume set of Eisenhower’s papers, a two-volume biography of Eisenhower, and several books on Eisenhower’s military career. Ambrose also wrote a television documentary for the BBC about Eisenhower.
After nearly twenty years of writing about Eisenhower, Ambrose turned to another American president, Richard M. Nixon. Ambrose was the first historian to produce a carefully researched scholarly biography of the controversial president. Ambrose’s three-volume work follows Nixon from his humble beginnings to his fall from the presidency to the resuscitation of his reputation in the 1980s.
Ambrose’s interest in the Lewis and Clark expedition dates back to 1975 when he started reading their journals. His readings sparked a trip in which Ambrose and his family followed the Lewis and Clark trail to the Pacific Ocean and which they commenced on the 172nd anniversary of the expedition’s departure. By the early 1990s, Ambrose had decided to write a book about the expedition. Undaunted Courage (1996) was a critical and commercial success. Since its publication, Ambrose also published Lewis and Clark: Voyage of Discovery (1998) and served as chief consultant to historian Ken Burns’ PBS series on Lewis and Clark.
In recent years, Ambrose has particularly focused on World War II and the lives of the American soldier. His Citizen Soldiers tells the story of the Allied D-Day invasion of France from the perspective of the GIs. He subsequently consulted on Stephen Spielberg’s award-winning movie Saving Private Ryan. In 1998, Ambrose was one of nine winners of the National Medal for the Humanities.
Bibliography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
Ambrose, Stephen. “D-Day June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II.” Interview by Brian Lamb. www.booknotes.org. June 5, 1994. An interview, available in the Web site’s archives, given for the fiftieth anniversary of D-Day on the C-SPAN series Booknotes. An excellent reference on Ambrose’s life and work.
Dean, Eric T. Review of Citizen Soldiers, by Stephen Ambrose. Journal of American History 86, no. 1 (June, 1999): 295-296. A highly critical review of Ambrose’s emphasis on heroism.
Lamar, Howard. Review of Undaunted Courage, by Stephen Ambrose. Yale Review 85, no. 4 (October, 1997): 146-150. A praiseworthy review of Ambrose’s writing.
Rosenblatt, Roger. “When the Hero Takes a Fall.” Time, January 21, 2002, 130. A balanced source on the plagiarism charges against Ambrose, including his comment on the accusations.