Stephen Ambrose Essay - Critical Essays

Ambrose, Stephen


Stephen Ambrose 1936-

(Full name Stephen Edward Ambrose) American historian, biographer, and editor.

The following entry presents an overview of Ambrose's career through 2000.

For nearly forty years, Ambrose has been the author of several major historical and biographical works that focus on significant events in American history. He has written multivolume biographies of United States presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard Nixon, popular narrative studies of the Lewis and Clark expedition and the opening of the American West, and vivid accounts of World War II combat. Ambrose has also amassed the world's largest collection of oral histories related to a single battle, the D-Day invasion, which he used as source material to write D-Day, June 6, 1944 (1994). Ambrose's military expertise came to the attention of director Steven Spielberg, who relied on Ambrose as a historical advisor for the acclaimed film Saving Private Ryan, the plot of which was partially drawn from Ambrose's writing about the Normandy invasion. Often praised for his balanced perspective and the narrative skill with which he presents individuals and historical events, Ambrose is among the most widely read professional historians in the United States.

Biographical Information

Born in Decatur, Illinois, Ambrose was the son of family physician Stephen Hedges Ambrose and Rosepha Ambrose. Early in Ambrose's life, the family moved to Whitewater, Wisconsin, where he attended high school. He matriculated at the University of Wisconsin as a pre-med student, but after he enrolled in a history class, Ambrose became so enthralled with the subject matter that he changed his major. He received a B.A. from the University of Wisconsin in 1957, the same year that he married Judith Dorlester. Ambrose received a master's degree from Louisiana State University in 1958, but returned to the University of Wisconsin for his doctoral work, which he completed in 1963. From 1960 to 1964 he served as an assistant professor at Louisiana State University in New Orleans and wrote his first book, Halleck (1962). This admittedly minor work was to have great implications for Ambrose's career, as one of its few readers was former President Eisenhower, who was so impressed by Ambrose's historical approach that he hired the then-28-year-old Ambrose to edit his papers. Ultimately, Ambrose became Eisenhower's official biographer. Ambrose has since spent thirty years researching the former president, leading to the completion of at least fifteen works about Eisenhower himself, his family, and events in which he played a pivotal role. Ambrose worked as an associate professor at Johns Hopkins University from 1964 through 1969. While at Johns Hopkins, he published three more works of history, Upton and the Army (1964), Duty, Honor, and Country (1966), and Eisenhower and Berlin, 1945 (1967). In 1966, Ambrose's wife died and one year later, he married Moira Buckley. After leaving Johns Hopkins in 1969, he spent a year as the Ernest J. King Professor of Maritime History at the U.S. Naval War College and another year at Kansas State University as the Dwight D. Eisenhower Professor of War and Peace. During his career, Ambrose took advantage of several visiting professorships throughout the United States and Ireland. The bulk of his academic career, however, has centered around his alma mater, Louisiana State University (now known as the University of New Orleans), where he taught from 1971 through 1995 and currently remains as a professor emeritus. He founded the Eisenhower Center at the University as well as the National D-Day Museum in New Orleans. In addition to authoring more than twenty-five books, Ambrose remains a frequent contributor to both scholarly and popular historical journals and newspapers. He currently lives in Helena, Montana.

Major Works

Ambrose has spent the majority of his career concentrating on the history of the United States, with particular interests in World War II, Eisenhower and Nixon, and the exploration of the American West. His work has been heavily influenced by his strong personal belief in the merits of democratic society and his great respect for the individuals who defended the United States against totalitarian regimes. His World War II histories include Pegasus Bridge (1984), Band of Brothers (1992), Eisenhower and the German POWs (1992), D-Day, June 6, 1944, Citizen Soldiers (1997), and The Victors (1998). Band of Brothers is a personal story of war seen through the eyes of the men of E Company, 101st Airborne Division, who were responsible for holding Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge and for capturing Berchtesgaden, Hitler's mountain hideaway. Eisenhower and the German POWs, co-edited with Gunter Bischof, cites abundant historical evidence to refute the assertions of author James Bacque that President Eisenhower was responsible for the deaths of perhaps one million German POWs in the waning days of World War II. D-Day, June 6, 1944 approaches military history unconventionally, by focusing on the experiences of common Allied soldiers, non-commissioned officers, and second lieutenants rather than generals or political leaders. In Ambrose's opinion, the creativity of these foot soldiers and platoon commanders was essential to the Allies' victory over the Germans. The text of D-Day is drawn from more than 1,000 oral histories of soldiers present at Normandy on the day of the invasion. Citizen Soldiers also recounts the experiences of ordinary soldiers, from June 7, 1944, through the surrender of Germany. This work reiterates Ambrose's thesis that it was the basic decency, moral determination, and flexible thinking of young American men that led to the Allied victory.

Ambrose's acclaimed biographies include a two-volume work about Eisenhower—Eisenhower: Soldier, General of the Army, President-Elect, 1890-1952 (1983) and Eisenhower: The President (1984)—and a three-volume work on Nixon—Nixon: The Education of a Politician, 1913-1962 (1987), Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician, 1962-1972 (1989), and Nixon: Ruin and Recovery, 1973-1990 (1991). Ambrose portrays Eisenhower as one of the greatest figures of the twentieth century, a man born to lead and a chief executive who, contrary to some contemporary opinions, held his hand firmly at the helm throughout his two terms in office. While researching the Eisenhower administration, Ambrose also became fascinated with one of the most villified political figures in American history—Richard Nixon, who served as Eisenhower's vice-president before ascending to the presidency himself. Ambrose was drawn to Nixon not out of admiration, but through curiosity about what went wrong during his presidential administration. The resulting three volumes constitute a perceptive portrait of a man who is considered one of the most complex political figures in U.S. history.

Ambrose's historical works about the American West—Crazy Horse and Custer (1975), Undaunted Courage (1996), and Nothing Like It in the World (2000)—are vivid narratives that portray the different kinds of personalities who overcame the many physical obstacles to America's westward expansion. Undaunted Courage, perhaps one of Ambrose's most highly regarded works, attempts to restore the reputation of Meriwether Lewis, co-leader of the Lewis and Clark expedition that was originally conceived by Thomas Jefferson. The work recounts the importance of Lewis's shared leadership with William Clark, the friendship between the two men, Lewis's excellence as a natural scientist, and his tragic demise. In Nothing Like It in the World, Ambrose celebrates the legions of anonymous workers who performed the backbreaking labor needed to build the transcontinental railway and describes the engineering, building, and financing decisions that occupied the men leading the effort. Ambrose's historical expertise has also drawn the attention of the producers and directors of various television documentaries and motion pictures. In 2001, the pay cable network HBO (Home Box Office) and director Steven Spielberg produced a ten-hour television mini-series adaptation of Ambrose's Band of Brothers.

Critical Reception

Ambrose's work has been hailed by many critics for its balance, its even-handed approach to men and events, and its engaging narrative presentation. Ambrose's biographies of Eisenhower and Nixon are widely regarded as definitive works on their subjects. Some reviewers have noted that Ambrose's willingness to criticize Eisenhower (his personal hero) and to express admiration for Nixon (a disgraced president) testifies to his judicious and objective historical approach. While his military histories of World War II, notably D-Day and Citizen Soldiers, have attracted considerable praise, some critics maintain that Ambrose tends to romanticize war, overlooking the reality of atrocity on all sides. Other reviewers have faulted Ambrose for not being sufficiently sensitive to political correctness. Also, because Ambrose is unabashedly patriotic and often reveres historical figures, some critics find his works long on adulation but short on analysis. However, it has been noted that Ambrose was unafraid to assail Eisenhower's handling of Joseph McCarthy and the growing civil rights struggle, despite his deep admiration for the man. Ambrose has been criticized for his failure to rely on primary sources, even when they are available, and for sometimes glossing over or omitting key points of history. Ambrose's books are written primarily for a popular audience rather than a scholarly one, and Ambrose has lamented the trend in contemporary historical writing toward focusing on theory rather than narrative.

Principal Works

Halleck: Lincoln's Chief of Staff (history) 1962

Upton and the Army (history) 1964

Duty, Honor, and Country: A History of West Point (history) 1966

Eisenhower and Berlin, 1945: The Decision to Halt at the Elbe (history) 1967

The Supreme Commander: The War Years of General Dwight D. Eisenhower (history) 1970

Rise to Globalism: American Foreign Policy Since 1938 (history) 1971

Crazy Horse and Custer: The Parallel Lives of Two American Warriors (history) 1975

Ike's Spies: Eisenhower and the Espionage Establishment [with Richard H. Immerman] (nonfiction) 1981

Eisenhower: Soldier, General of the Army, President-Elect, 1890-1952 (biography) 1983

Milton S. Eisenhower: Educational Statesman [with Richard H. Immerman] (biography) 1983

Eisenhower: The President (biography) 1984

Pegasus Bridge: 6 June 1944 (history) 1984

Nixon: The Education of a Politician, 1913-1962 (biography) 1987

Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician, 1962-1972 (biography) 1989

Nixon: Ruin and Recovery, 1973-1990 (biography) 1991

Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne, from Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest (history) 1992

Eisenhower and the German POWs: Facts against Falsehood [editor; with Gunter Bischof] (history) 1992

D-Day, June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II (history) 1994

Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West (history) 1996

Americans at War (essays) 1997

Citizen Soldiers: The U.S. Army from the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany (history) 1997

The Victors: Eisenhower and His Boys—The Men of World War II (history) 1998

Witness to America: An Illustrated Documentary History of the United States from the Revolution to Today [editor; with Douglas G. Brinkley] (history) 1999

Nothing Like It in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad, 1863-1869 (history) 2000


John Keegan (review date 22 October 1984)

SOURCE: “The Good General,” in New Republic, October 22, 1984, pp. 43-6.

[In the following review, Keegan offers positive evaluation of Ambrose's two-volume biography of Eisenhower.]

“Eisenhower,” this magnificent biography begins [Eisenhower: Soldier, General of the Army, President-Elect, 1890-1952], “was a great and good man,” and with that no one of generous spirit would disagree. He was also, for more than half of his life, a poor man—in childhood dirt poor. It is from that fact in his background that a European reader would begin to assess his character. For the officer class in Europe, though often strapped for cash, has never been poor in...

(The entire section is 2315 words.)

Herbert S. Parmet (review date 29 October 1984)

SOURCE: “Unearthing the Real Ike,” in New Leader, October 29, 1984, pp. 17-18.

[In the following review of Eisenhower: The President, Parmet concludes that Ambrose's work is “by far the best and most authoritative Eisenhower biography available.”]

“Eisenhower gave the nation eight years of peace and prosperity,” declares Stephen E. Ambrose near the end of his comprehensive and approving life of our 34th Commander-in-Chief [in Eisenhower: The President.] “No other President in the 20th century could make that claim. No wonder millions of Americans felt that the country was damned lucky to have him.”

Ike's most outstanding...

(The entire section is 1278 words.)

Spencer Warren (review date April 1985)

SOURCE: “The Real Ike,” in Commentary, Vol. 79, No. 4, April, 1985, pp. 81-4.

[In the following review, Warren offers favorable evaluation of Eisenhower: The President, but concludes that many questions concerning Eisenhower's complex personality remain unanswered.]

As early impressions have given way to historical judgments, the reputation of Dwight D. Eisenhower as President has risen sharply. The release of a great mass of private papers in the past decade has inspired a number of accounts of the Eisenhower Presidency which have undermined the widely held view of Ike as a lazy, bland, uninvolved chief executive, one who remained above politics and let...

(The entire section is 2174 words.)

Richard Harwood (review date 3 May 1987)

SOURCE: “The Man Who Would Be President,” in Washington Post Book World, May 3, 1987, pp. 1, 14.

[In the following review, Harwood offers positive assessment of Nixon: The Education of a Politician, 1913-1962.]

Richard Nixon marked his 74th birthday on Jan. 9, one of those bittersweet occasions, I assume, in which laughter triumphs over tears. His life invokes both. He has been a major actor in many of the searing episodes of this bloody century and has been a witness to the rest. There was nothing trivial about his victories or defeats; they were on scales more grand than most of us would imagine (or could handle) in our own lives. By the age of 47, his new...

(The entire section is 1945 words.)

Herbert Parmet (review date 4-18 May 1987)

SOURCE: “Resurrecting Poor Richard,” in New Leader, May 4-18, 1987, pp. 23-5.

[In the following review, Parmet offers positive assessment of Nixon: The Education of a Politician, 1913-1962.]

In the aftermath of his Presidency, the consensus view of Richard M. Nixon was nowhere more sharply put than in Jonathan Schell's The Time of Illusion. What characterized the Californian's politics, we were told, was the pursuit of a deliberate policy of “positive polarization.” Now, a decade after Schell's analysis, we are reminded that this singular propensity was displayed well before Nixon became Chief Executive. By the time he reached the age of 47, he had...

(The entire section is 1539 words.)

Joan Hoff-Wilson (review date 21 June 1987)

SOURCE: A review of Nixon: The Education of a Politician, 1913-1962, in Los Angeles Times Book Review, June 21, 1987, p. 12.

[In the following review of Nixon: The Education of a Politician, 1913-1962, Hoff-Wilson finds weaknesses in Ambrose's reliance on dubious primary sources and his lack of original analysis.]

On the face of it, Stephen E. Ambrose has written a balanced, descriptive account [in Nixon: The Education of a Politician, 1913-1962] of the life of Richard Milhous Nixon from birth in 1913 to premature retirement from politics in 1962. Yet, underneath the polished prose and paced narrative, Ambrose's first volume of a projected...

(The entire section is 1115 words.)

John Charmley (review date 4 July 1987)

SOURCE: “A Classical Hero with Blue Jowls,” in Spectator, July 4, 1987, pp. 32-3.

[In the following review of Nixon: The Education of a Politician, 1913-1962, Charmley praises Ambrose's study of Nixon as “a superb biography which comes as near to explaining its subject as any biographer can hope for.”]

In an era when appearances count for so much in politics, especially the American brand, Richard Nixon was bound to have a hard time of it; those blue jowls and that ski-slope nose ensured that whatever else he was, he was not telegenic. The famous 1960 debates between him and Kennedy saw a confrontation not between age and youth (the two men were almost...

(The entire section is 1004 words.)

Sidney Blumenthal (review date 6 July 1987)

SOURCE: “He's the One,” in New Republic, July 6, 1987, pp. 30-4.

[In the following review of Nixon: The Education of a Politician, 1913-1962, Blumenthal writes that Ambrose's “old-fashioned sort of biography” serves as a “standard” point of reference for Nixon studies, but Ambrose's “professionally ‘balanced’ approach to an unbalanced subject does not penetrate deep enough.”]

The night of John F. Kennedy's inauguration, after the oratory about the torch being passed, the loser toured the mostly deserted Washington streets. Until the bewitching hour of midnight, Richard Nixon still commanded his official vice presidential car. He ordered his...

(The entire section is 3551 words.)

Alan Brinkley (review date 16 July 1987)

SOURCE: “The Best Man,” in New York Review of Books, July 16, 1987, pp. 10-3.

[In the following review of Nixon: The Education of a Politician, 1913-1962, Brinkley finds shortcomings in Ambrose's unwillingness to offer speculative analysis of Nixon's psychological profile. However, Brinkley concludes that, while offering no new information, Ambrose's biography relates “a familiar story with uncommon balance, skill, and grace—and with a fullness and detail that no previous work can match.”]

Stephen Ambrose began his distinguished biography of Dwight D. Eisenhower with open admiration for his subject. Eisenhower, he writes, was “a great and good man...

(The entire section is 4665 words.)

Richard John Neuhaus (review date August 1987)

SOURCE: “The Vocation of Politics,” in Commentary, Vol. 84, No. 2, August, 1987, pp. 78-80.

[In the following review of Nixon: The Education of a Politician, 1913-1962, Neuhaus commends Ambrose's “exhaustive” and even-handed scholarship, but contends that he is not successful in recasting Nixon as a more admirable figure.]

During his 1962 bid for the California governorship, Richard Nixon was not helped by the remark of the master of ceremonies at one of his fund-raising dinners: “Too many people are saying, ‘I don't like Nixon, but I don't know why.’”

People are still saying that. On the other hand, many say that they do not...

(The entire section is 1858 words.)

Robert A. Strong (review date Summer 1988)

SOURCE: “Richard Nixon Revisited,” in Virginia Quarterly Review, Vol. 64, No. 3, Summer, 1988, pp. 525-34.

[In the following excerpted review essay, Strong offers positive evaluation of Nixon: The Education of a Politician, 1913-1962, but concludes that many questions about Nixon's personal motivations remain unanswerable.]

Winston Churchill, in one of his many memorable observations, once described a Russian action on the international scene as “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” If you were to add a few more qualifying phrases and a few more synonyms suggesting bewilderment, you might come close to describing the problem Americans have in...

(The entire section is 2344 words.)

Robert Dallek (review date 15 October 1989)

SOURCE: “Nixon Before the Fall,” in Los Angeles Times Book Review, October 15, 1989, pp. 1, 9.

[In the following excerpted review, Dallek concludes that Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician, 1962-1972 adds little to existing information about Nixon and, furthermore, includes contradictory assessment of Nixon's foreign policy skills.]

Like the mythological Egyptian bird that consumed itself by fire and rose renewed from its ashes, Richard Nixon is a latter-day phoenix. Defeated by John F. Kennedy for the presidency in 1960 and by Pat Brown for the California governorship in 1962, Nixon told a press conference: “You won't have Dick Nixon to kick around any...

(The entire section is 781 words.)

John Edward Wilz (review date Summer 1990)

SOURCE: A review of Eisenhower: Soldier, General of the Army, President-Elect, 1890-1952, and Eisenhower: The President, in Presidential Studies Quarterly, Vol. XX, No. 3, Summer, 1990, pp. 623-26.

[In the following review, Wilz offers positive evaluation of Eisenhower: Soldier, General of the Army, President-Elect, 1890-1952 and Eisenhower: The President.]

Three years after leaving the White House, in 1964, former-President Eisenhower put through a phone call to Stephen Ambrose, a twenty-eight-year-old assistant professor of history at Louisiana State University. Impressed by Ambrose's recent biography of the Civil War general Henry Halleck, Ike...

(The entire section is 1708 words.)

Kevin P. Phillips (review date 24 November 1991)

SOURCE: “The Rediscovery of Richard Nixon,” in Los Angeles Times Book Review, November 24, 1991, pp. 4, 11.

[In the following review of Nixon: Ruin and Recovery, 1973-1990, Phillips commends Ambrose's “thorough and even-handed” approach, but finds fault in the book's inaccurate political history and lack of comparative analysis between Nixon and other U.S. presidents accused of unethical dealings.]

In both tenacity and perspicacity, Richard Nixon's political re-emergence over the last 14 years has proven as extraordinary as his earlier success at hauling himself back from defeat in the 1962 California gubernatorial race and going on to win the presidency...

(The entire section is 1351 words.)

William L. O'Neill (review date 30 December 1991)

SOURCE: “The High Cost of Watergate,” in New Leader, December 30, 1991, pp. 16-17.

[In the following review, O'Neill offers praise for Nixon: Ruin and Recovery, 1973-1990.]

The first line of Stephen E. Ambrose's smashing conclusion to his biography of Richard M. Nixon [Nixon: Ruin and Recovery, 1973-1990] says it all: “This is the political story of the century.”

In volume one Ambrose described Nixon's rapid rise from small-town lawyer to the Vice Presidency, his narrow loss to John F. Kennedy, and then his humiliating defeat by Edmund G. “Pat” Brown for the governorship of California in 1962. That would have finished any other...

(The entire section is 1470 words.)

Anthony Howard (review date 1 February 1992)

SOURCE: “By Hook or By Crook,” in Spectator, February 1, 1992, p. 32.

[In the following review, Howard offers positive assessment of Nixon: Ruin and Recovery, 1973-1990.]

‘He went out the same way he came in, no class'—that was John Kennedy's comment on his rival the day after Richard Nixon lost the presidential election to him in 1960. Many would say the same about Nixon's last demeaning exit from the White House 14 years later. For most of this third volume of his epic biography of the only US President ever to be forced to resign, Stephen E. Ambrose seems to belong to their company. The story of Nixon's deceit and dissimulation over Watergate has not lost...

(The entire section is 853 words.)

Esmond Wright (review date July 1992)

SOURCE: “The Man Who Came Back,” in Contemporary Review, Vol. 261, No. 1518, July, 1992, pp. 45-6.

[In the following review, Wright offers praise for Nixon: Ruin and Recovery, 1973-1990.]

Despite the high drama of a now-familiar story, and despite the daunting detail, this is a remarkably fair study. Indeed, Ambrose comes gradually to like Nixon [in Nixon: Ruin and Recovery, 1973-1990]. ‘That is not easy to do, as he doesn't really want to be liked.’ What he admires—and what he conveys—is that Nixon never gives up, and is always true to himself.

The main strength of the book lies in its variety: beginning in the triumph in the...

(The entire section is 455 words.)

James N. Giglio (review date Winter 1993)

SOURCE: A review of Nixon: Ruin and Recovery, 1973-1990, in Historian, Vol. 55, No. 2, Winter, 1993, pp. 372-73.

[In the following review, Giglio offers positive assessment of Nixon: Ruin and Recovery, 1973-1990.]

Bryce Harlow once compared Richard Nixon to a cork: “Push him down and he pops right back up” (583). The enduring resiliency of Nixon is one of the central themes of Ruin and Recovery, the concluding segment of Stephen E. Ambrose's three-volume biography. He covers the “peace with honor” settlement in Vietnam, the Yom Kippur War, Nixon's fascination with China, détente with the Soviet Union, the Watergate crisis, Nixon's exile, and his...

(The entire section is 546 words.)

John Kentleton (review date February 1994)

SOURCE: A review of Eisenhower and the German POWs, in History, Vol. 79, No. 255, February, 1994, p. 186.

[In the following review, Kentleton offers positive assessment of Eisenhower and the German POWs.]

In 1989 James Bacque in Other Losses: An Investigation into the Mass Deaths of German Prisoners of War at the Hands of the French and Americans after World War II alleged that Eisenhower as commander of the American army of occupation deliberately withheld food and shelter from captured German forces, causing the death of between 800,000 and one million prisoners of war through starvation and disease. Furthermore, this crime, carried out by the American...

(The entire section is 421 words.)

Earl F. Ziemke (review date March 1994)

SOURCE: A review of Eisenhower and the German POWs, in Journal of American History, Vol. 80, No. 4, March, 1994, p. 1526.

[In the following review, Ziemke concludes that Eisenhower and the German POWs does not adequately explain the deaths of German POWs in Allied prison camps.]

World War II as specialty has an occupational hazard: It attracts the attention of persons who create sensational hypotheses for which they lack validating evidence. In 1987, I received a call from a James Bacque, who said he believed Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower had been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands, possibly a million, German POWs in American hands after the...

(The entire section is 641 words.)

Scott Jaschik (essay date 18 May 1994)

SOURCE: “D-Day: New Book Pays Tribute to the Heroism of Individual Soldiers,” in Chronicle of Higher Education, May 18, 1994, pp. A8-9, A14.

[In the following essay, Jaschik discusses Ambrose's scholarly interests, his use of oral history to compose D-Day, June 6, 1944, and critical reaction to his portrayal of the Normandy invasion in this work.]

Stephen E. Ambrose has revered the veterans of World War II since he was 10 years old. The war had just ended, and former GI's who lived in his neighborhood in Whitewater, Wis., played basketball on his family's driveway.

“I just thought they were giants, both physically and because I knew...

(The entire section is 2275 words.)

William L. O'Neill (review date 6-20 June 1994)

SOURCE: “Operation Overlord from the Inside,” in New Leader, June 6-20, 1994, pp. 12-13.

[In the following review, O'Neill offers praise for D-Day, June 6, 1944.]

Cornelius Ryan's classic The Longest Day, though still a wonderful read, came out in 1959 when much vital information about Operation Overlord remained classified or was otherwise unavailable. Thus a need existed that many historians were eager to fill, and early this spring books began pouring off the presses to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the momentous event.

There are at least two reasons why D-Day, June 6, 1944 stands out in what is now a crowded field. Its...

(The entire section is 1488 words.)

Carlo d'Este (review date 30 December 1994)

SOURCE: “The Culprits of Market-Garden,” in Times Literary Supplement, December 30, 1994, p. 27.

[In the following excerpt, d'Este concludes that D-Day, June 6, 1944 is “enormously readable and will undoubtedly become a standard work of its genre,” despite its overemphasis on the American role in the Normandy invasion.]

The summer of 1994 marked the commemoration of the fiftieth anniversaries of two famous and very different battles of the Second World War. On June 6, the world's attention was focused on Normandy, where in 1944 the turning point of the war occurred when Allied forces launched their long-awaited cross-Channel invasion on Sword, Juno,...

(The entire section is 661 words.)

Alan F. Wilt (review date June 1995)

SOURCE: A review of D-Day, June 6, 1944, in American Historical Review, Vol. 100, No. 3, June, 1995, pp. 872-73.

[In the following review, Wilt offers positive evaluation of D-Day, June 6, 1944, though finds shortcomings in Ambrose's overstated comparison of Eisenhower and Erwin Rommel, his generalizations about the Atlantic Wall debacle, and his predominant focus on the American role in the battle.]

Stephen E. Ambrose's book on D-Day [D-Day, June 6, 1944] has scaled the heights: a selection of the Book-of-the-Month and History Book clubs, nine weeks on the best-seller list, the most heralded of the works commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of...

(The entire section is 1100 words.)

Blaine Harden (review date 11 February 1996)

SOURCE: “Where the Wild Things Were,” in Washington Post Book World, February 11, 1996, pp. 3, 7.

[In the following review, Harden offers positive assessment of Undaunted Courage.]

Feeling unmoved? Sensing perhaps that you live in uninteresting times? Weary of politicians who define vision as kicking AIDS victims out of the military? If so, historian Stephen Ambrose has a tonic for you.

Undaunted Courage is about a time when America was young, the federal government was bold and the president knew what he was doing. President Thomas Jefferson executed the Louisiana Purchase for a song, doubled the territory of the country overnight and in...

(The entire section is 885 words.)

Alexander Theroux (review date 3 March 1996)

SOURCE: “The Epic Journey of Capt. Lewis: A Young Man's Life on an Incredible Expedition,” in Chicago Tribune Books, March 3, 1996, p. 1.

[In the following review, Theroux offers positive assessment of Undaunted Courage.]

On July 4, 1803, the nation's 27th birthday, the very same day Napoleon sold Louisiana to the United States, Capt. Meriwether Lewis was making final preparations for the greatest exploring expedition in the history of this country. President Thomas Jefferson had selected his personal secretary and fellow Virginian to travel up the Mississippi and Missouri, cross over the Rockies, go down the Columbia and reach the sky-blue Pacific. “The object...

(The entire section is 1197 words.)

Gordon S. Wood (review date 4 April 1996)

SOURCE: “The Writingest Explorers,” in New York Review of Books, April 4, 1996, pp. 18-21.

[In the following review, Wood offers favorable evaluation of Undaunted Courage.]

The Lewis and Clark expedition of 1804–1806 is the greatest adventure of exploration in American history. The astronauts of the 1960s knew more about the surface of the moon they were to land on than Lewis and Clark knew about the northwest part of the Louisiana territory they were sent to explore by President Thomas Jefferson. And Lewis and Clark and their party were out of touch with their fellow Americans back home for long periods of time—weeks, months, years—longer certainly than the...

(The entire section is 4236 words.)

Patricia Nelson Limerick (review date 7 April 1996)

SOURCE: “The Blank Page, the Final Frontier,” in Los Angeles Times Book Review, April 7, 1996, p. 3.

[In the following review of Undaunted Courage, Limerick finds shortcomings in Ambrose's military perspective and uncritical admiration of Lewis and Clark.]

Imagine that you are a student and that the registrar's computer has been playing tricks with your course enrollment. You thought you were signed up to take the standard American history course, but the computer has placed you instead in a history class for ROTC cadets.

Things become puzzling when your instructor's lively stories keep returning to the same theme: the proper behavior and...

(The entire section is 1348 words.)

Peter G. Boyle (review date June 1996)

SOURCE: A review of Eisenhower: A Centenary Assessment, in Journal of American History, Vol. 83, No. 1, June, 1996, pp. 277-78.

[In the following review, Boyle concludes that Eisenhower: A Centenary Assessment is “a useful addition to scholarship on Eisenhower.”]

In 1990, on the occasion of the one hundredth anniversary of Dwight D. Eisenhower's birth, the Eisenhower Center at the University of New Orleans, which is dedicated to the study of the life and times of General and President Eisenhower, sponsored a year-long series of lectures on his career. The lectures, revised for publication and edited by the center's director and associate director,...

(The entire section is 765 words.)

Albert Furtwangler (review date December 1996)

SOURCE: A review of Undaunted Courage, in Journal of American History, Vol. 83, No. 3, December, 1996, pp. 1007-8.

[In the following review of Undaunted Courage, Furtwangler concludes that Ambrose fails to capture the literary and larger philosophical dimensions of the book's subject.]

This book has had widespread success, including weeks as a national best seller. For thousands of new readers, it may ease the way into the great Lewis and Clark expedition of 1803–1806. It consolidates dozens of studies from the past thirty years to tell the story in short, accessible chapters with full explication.

Nevertheless, the overarching design...

(The entire section is 527 words.)

Lisa E. Emmerich (review date Fall 1997)

SOURCE: A review of Undaunted Courage, in Historian, Vol. 60, No. 1, Fall, 1997, pp. 123-24.

[In the following review, Emmerich offers generally positive assessment of Undaunted Courage.]

This work is the story of two magnificent obsessions. The first, as is obvious from the title, is the epic of love of exploration that drew Meriwether Lewis and Thomas Jefferson into the partnership that ultimately opened the trans-Mississippi West to European American settlement. The other obsession, revealed more clearly with the turn of each page, is that of the author. Captivated by Lewis and his remarkable journey, Ambrose has spent the last twenty years leading family,...

(The entire section is 539 words.)

Howard Lamar (review date October 1997)

SOURCE: “The Search for American Heroes,” in Yale Review, Vol. 85, No. 4, October, 1997, pp. 146-50.

[In the following review, Lamar offers favorable evaluation of Undaunted Courage, praising Ambrose's narrative skill and successful effort to humanize Meriwether Lewis.]

Stephen E. Ambrose, the author of The New York Times bestseller D-Day and the biographer of Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard Nixon, has always been in search of American heroes. In Undaunted Courage he goes back in time to write about one of the country's first official explorer-heroes, Meriwether Lewis of the famous Lewis and Clark Overland Expedition of 1804–6. Unlike...

(The entire section is 1642 words.)

Josiah Bunting III (review date 21 December 1998)

SOURCE: “Fighting Words,” in National Review, December 21, 1998, pp. 60-2.

[In the following review, Bunting offers positive assessment of The Victors and Ambrose's focus on the military experiences of individual soldiers.]

For whom is serious history written? The American academy has long answered: for other university scholars. On occasion, works of academic scholarship become popular: one can think of any number of such books. But in the eyes of university colleagues, their authors as a consequence soon become suspect—quietly derided, yet envied. Historians vulgarly praised as “good writers” are similarly fretted over. Propulsive narrative, pellucid...

(The entire section is 1234 words.)

Eric T. Dean Jr. (review date June 1999)

SOURCE: A review of Citizen Soldiers, in Journal of American History, Vol. 86, No. 1, June, 1999, pp. 295-6.

[In the following review excerpt of Citizen Soldiers, Dean takes issue with Ambrose's tendency to conflate heroism and cruelty in his portrayal of World War II as a “good war.”]

World War II, despite the fact that it left over four hundred thousand Americans dead and hundreds of thousands of other veterans maimed in body or mind, has until recently persisted in the American imagination as a “good war,” one that was fought for a necessary and noble cause, and one in which American fighting men did their duty overseas and then came home to...

(The entire section is 590 words.)

Steve Weinberg (review date 3 September 2000)

SOURCE: “Linking a Nation: Stephen Ambrose's Story of the Building of the Transcontinental Railroad,” in Chicago Tribune Books, September 3, 2000, p. 5.

[In the following review, Weinberg offers favorable assessment of Nothing Like It in the World.]

When I was young, the building of the interstate highway system transformed the U.S. The obstacles were huge, but road crews working heavy machinery got the job done. The time spent driving between major cities was cut in half.

Amazing as the building of the interstate highway system was, something far more amazing had occurred a century earlier—the building of a transcontinental railroad, with no...

(The entire section is 1173 words.)

Patricia Nelson Limerick (review date 18 September 2000)

SOURCE: “Railroaded History,” in Washington Post Book World, September 18, 2000, p. C3.

[In the following review of Nothing Like It in the World, Limerick criticizes Ambrose's uncritical generalizations about the American transcontinental railroad and his sentimental view of its construction.]

Stephen Ambrose has grown weary of negativity. Finding in the first transcontinental railroad a prime opportunity to reroute U.S. history back to its proper track of pride, he offers Americans a journey to an appealing destination. Nothing Like It in the World gives readers a ride back to an era when people felt good about American history, inspired by the...

(The entire section is 978 words.)

Further Reading


Apple, R. W. “Beyond Damnation or Defense.” New York Times Book Review (12 November 1989): 1.

Review of Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician, 1962-1972.

Barrett, Laurence I. “Martyr or Machiavelli?” Time (6 November 1989): 100.

Review of Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician, 1962-1972.

Betty, Mary Lou. “The Fifties and Ike.” Humanities 18, No. 5 (September-October 1997): 8.

Ambrose discusses the Eisenhower era and his relationship with the former president.

Bliven, Naomi. “Ike.” New Yorker (1 July 1985): 95-7.


(The entire section is 385 words.)