Stephen Ambrose Criticism - Essay

John Keegan (review date 22 October 1984)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Herbert S. Parmet (review date 29 October 1984)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Spencer Warren (review date April 1985)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Richard Harwood (review date 3 May 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Herbert Parmet (review date 4-18 May 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Joan Hoff-Wilson (review date 21 June 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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John Charmley (review date 4 July 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Sidney Blumenthal (review date 6 July 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Alan Brinkley (review date 16 July 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Richard John Neuhaus (review date August 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Robert A. Strong (review date Summer 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Robert Dallek (review date 15 October 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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John Edward Wilz (review date Summer 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Kevin P. Phillips (review date 24 November 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Anthony Howard (review date 1 February 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Esmond Wright (review date July 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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James N. Giglio (review date Winter 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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John Kentleton (review date February 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Earl F. Ziemke (review date March 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Scott Jaschik (essay date 18 May 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Carlo d'Este (review date 30 December 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Blaine Harden (review date 11 February 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Alexander Theroux (review date 3 March 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Gordon S. Wood (review date 4 April 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Patricia Nelson Limerick (review date 7 April 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Peter G. Boyle (review date June 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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,...

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Albert Furtwangler (review date December 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Lisa E. Emmerich (review date Fall 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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,...

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Howard Lamar (review date October 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Josiah Bunting III (review date 21 December 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Steve Weinberg (review date 3 September 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Patricia Nelson Limerick (review date 18 September 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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