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MISSISSIPPI WRITERS: Stephen E. Ambrose


Stephen E. Ambrose 1936-2002

Major WorksStephen Ambrose at Mississippi State University in spring of 1999.

  • Upton and the Army
  •  Band of Brothers : E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler's  Eagle's Nest
  • Halleck: Lincoln's Chief of Staff
  • Ike's Spies: Eisenhower and the Espionage Establishment
  • Rise to Globalism: American Foreign Policy 1938-1992
  • Crazy Horse and Custer: The Parallel Lives of Two American Warriors
  • Eisenhower and Berlin, 1945
  • Duty, Honor, Country: A History of West Point
  • The Supreme Commander: The War Years of General Dwight D. Eisenhower
  • Eisenhower: Soldier, General of the Army, President-Elect 1890-1952
  • Eisenhower: The PresidentComrades by Stephen E. Ambrose
  • Pegasus Bridge: June 6, 1944
  • Nixon: The Education of a Politician 1913-1962
  • Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician 1962-1972
  • Eisenhower: Soldier and President
  •  Nixon: Ruin and Recovery 1973-1990
  • Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest
  • D-Day: June 6, 1944: the Climactic Battle of World War II
  • Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West
  • CITIZEN SOLDIERS: The U.S. Army From the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany,  June 7, 1944-May 7, 1945.
  •  Comrades: Brothers, Fathers, Heroes, Sons, Pals
  • Character Above All : Stephen Ambrose on Dwight D. Eisenhower
  • Rise to Globalism: American Foreign Policy Since 1938
  • The Wild Blue:  The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24s over Germany
  • Comrades: Brothers, Fathers, Heroes, Sons, Pals (1999)
  • To America: Personal Reflections of an Historian

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Stephen E. Ambrose: A BiographyJarret Clark
by Jarret L. Clark (SHS)

Historian Stephen E. Ambrose has had a very interesting and singular career. As a young man, he experienced the same yearning to get out and see the world as do so many people of that age. He found his escape, as well as his true calling, in college. His career was jump-started when his first book caught the attention of the President of the United States. (Carlin 102) Today, as the author of more than nineteen books, the Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, resident enjoys the well-earned rewards that his talent and insight have brought him.

Ambrose was born the second son of three of a US Navy doctor and a housewife. As a boy, he grew up in the town of Whitewater, Wisconsin. Whitewater was the epitome of a small town, complete with picket fences and unlocked doors. The young Ambrose found it absolutely suffocating. "There was no taste, no culture" says Ambrose. "All these Republicans who made over $10,000 a year ran the town, and my old man was one of them. I couldn't wait to get out of that godforsaken place." His way out came in the form of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where he gained his Bachelor's degree and later his Ph.D. in American history  (Carlin 102).  He also gained a strong Marxist viewpoint, which he later abandoned in light of his historical studies and close association with Dwight Eisenhower. (Ringle) While an undergraduate, he played football, was a member of Chi Psi fraternity, and was on the Union's Speaker's Bureau. (Graham)

It was as a sophomore majoring in pre-med at UW-Madison that Ambrose walked into a class entitled "Representative Americans," taught by a Professor William Hesseltine, at the suggestion  of his college advisor (Graham).  Ambrose was instantly fascinated. "I had no idea that history was about flesh-and-blood people," he recalls. " I was wowed by the way he (the professor) drew you into the story.  He hadn't said ten sentences when I had decided what I wanted to do with my life. I went up to him after the lecture, and I said, 'How do I do what you do for a living?' And he laughed and said, 'Stick around. We'll show you'" (Denver Post). Ambrose never looked back. Today he is one of the best-known historians in America and is recognized as the foremost expert on Presidents Richard Nixon and Dwight D. Eisenhower. (Graham) 

Stephen E. AmbroseAmbrose published his first book, a biography of General Henry Halleck, Chief of Staff for Abraham Lincoln, while working on his doctorate at UW-Madison.  (Graham).  Little did he know that General Halleck had fans in high places. President Dwight Eisenhower read the book shortly after it came out and promptly called Ambrose, asking him to help edit the Eisenhower papers and later to write a biography of the president (Carlin 102).  Ambrose took an instant liking to the former president, perhaps due in part to his service in the United States  Army. "The men I admire most are soldiers, sailors, professional military," says Ambrose. "Way more than politicians." (Ringle) His fondness for the president may also be partly due to the easy narrative quality of the president's life, something Ambrose says he finds lacking in contemporary academic history. His belief is that in order to interest today's young Americans, you must first tell them about the country's heroes, like George Washington and Meriwether Lewis, and only afterward teach the demographics and formulations so prevalent in modern history classes (Denver Post).  Ambrose first and foremost considers himself a storyteller. "It's an honorable profession. Homer founded it," says Ambrose. "It's not bad company you're in when you make your living telling stories."  (Graham)

D-Day by Stephen E. AmbroseOne of Stephen Ambrose's favorite stories is that of the expedition of Lewis and Clark and the trail it blazed to the West. It was a copy of the journals of Lewis and Clark, given to him by an aunt, that sparked Ambrose's interest in the subject. (Carlin 102-103) "In the late fall of 1975, I read the journals of Lewis and Clark and was entranced from the first sentence," Ambrose reminisces. It was from these journals that the Ambrose got the idea of where to spend the nation's  two hundredth birthday. He and his family  would follow the trail of the expedition and on the Fourth of July, they would camp at Lemhi Pass, where Lewis became the first white man to cross the continental divide. "Through the late spring we made our way up the Missouri River, stopping at Lewis and Clark campsites Comrades by Stephen E. Ambrosealong the way. We canoed the river at every stop. Each night around the fire, we would read aloud from the journals" (Ambrose 46). The camaraderie felt on the trail has drawn the Ambrose family back every summer for the past twenty years. It was only a matter of time before Ambrose felt compelled to write about the story he loves (Ringle).  "I've walked every step of that trail," he says. "I've made wakes [on the river] where Lewis made wakes, and I've sat around his campfires...You don't see power lines, you don't see bridges or ranches. You see what the explorers saw" (Carlin 101-102).  "In 1993 we invited the smartest people we knew to join us for a Missouri River trip, a July Fourth commute at Lemma and a horseback crossing on the Lolo Trail. I was getting ready to write Undaunted Courage and wanted to know what questions popped into bright people's minds after a day on the trail and a reading of the journals around the campfire" (Ambrose 47.) This technique seems to have been effective because Undaunted Courage is celebrating its forty-eighth week on the New York Times bestseller list as of this writing. Ambrose admits to being astonished by the success of Undaunted Courage. "That was wonderful when Newsweek called and said visitor numbers were up fifteen per cent at all stops along the trail this year," he says. Many of the travelers site Ambrose's book as the reason for their visit. "That's the real payoff," says Ambrose ( Graham).  Ambrose's feelings for the trail can be summed up in one anecdote from this phenomenal storyteller. "You know, when I was doing my research on Nixon in California, I remember talking to one of his former high school classmates back in Yorba Linda. He was still a Nixon supporter. But he wanted to be sure that I understood one thing. He said 'You know, Dick Nixon wasn't the sort of guy you'd ever ask to go backpacking with you.' I've always thought that told you a lot about Nixon" (Ringle).

Stephen E. Ambrose is the author of numerous books of history, including the New York Times bestsellers Undaunted Courage and D-Day, as well as multi-volume biographies of Dwight D.  Eisenhower and Richard Nixon. He is founder of the Eisenhower Center and President of the National D-Day Museum in New Orleans. His most recent books are Comrades : Brothers, Fathers, Heroes, Sons, Pals andThe Wild Blue:  The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24s over Germany. He lives  most of the year in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, but he also maintains a house in Helena, Montana.

UPDATE:

Historian Stephen Ambrose died of lung cancer on October 13, 2002, in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, at the age of 66. The author of more than 35 books, he was an historian who became a best-selling author. Much of his career he was a professor at the University of New Orleans where he founded the Eisenhower Center for American Studies. He also founded the National D-Day Museum.

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A Review of Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West
by Jarret L. Clark (SHS)

Undaunted Courage by Stphen E. AmbroseStephen E. Ambrose is known for writing a number of outstanding books concerning the lives of exceptional Americans. In Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West, Ambrose brings to light the wonder and excitement of a journey through uncharted wilderness. The book is predominantly a biography of one half of the Lewis and Clark duo, namely, Meriwether Lewis. Ambrose goes into meticulous detail in describing not only the journey which made the man so famous, but also Lewis's  life prior to the voyage, and his tragic fall afterward. The reader will be entranced by the in depth descriptions of Lewis' life as a Virginia planter at the tender age of eighteen. Perhaps for the first time for many, the qualifications which brought Lewis to the head of this grand expedition are brought forth, from his military and wilderness experience to his position as personal secretary to Thomas Jefferson. Also brought to light are the tragic events which lead up to his death by what Ambrose believes to be suicide, though other historians disagree. This book is a real treat for fans of American history or anyone with a scholarly frame of mind.

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Related Websites

Real Audio interview from PBS from Online NewsHour

This site lists all the books by Ambrose, including those for which he wrote introductions, audio tapes which he reads.

Amazon.com sells Comrades but also presents numerous reviews of the book.

Stephen Ambrose is the best-selling author who served as historical consultant on Spielberg's  "Saving Private Ryan."

PBS biography of Stephen Ambrose.

Essay on charge of plagiarism of Ambrose by David Plotz.

Ole Miss site includes news of Ambrose's plagiarism.

CBS's article: Cancer-Stricken Historian's New Book Is A Race Against Time

CNN's obituary for historian Stephen Ambrose.

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Bibliography

Peter Carillon. "Outward Bound" People Weekly Vol. 46, 1 Jul. 96. 101-103.

Stephen E. Ambrose. "On the Trail of Lewis and Clark" Newsweek Vol. 128, 26 Aug. 96.  46-47.

Walker, Dale L. "Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West." The History Net n. pa. Online. World Wide Web. 24 Apr 98. Avail. http://www.thehistorynet.com/reviews/bk.openwest.htm

Graham, Timothy P. "Historian Stephen Ambrose Returns to Madison" The Badger Herald Online (3 Sep 96) n.pag. Online. World Wide Web. 24 Apr 98. Avail. http://www.badgerherald.com/news/fall96/090396news10.html

Ringle, Ken. "Historian on the March" Washingtonpost.com (20 Dec 97)  n. pa. Online. World Wide Web. 24 Apr 98 Avail. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/WPlate/1997-12/20/0521-122097-idx.html

Books by Stephen E. Ambrose

Jackson, Harvey H., III. "New Work Rekindles Great Awe for Lewis and Clark's Journey." Mobile Register (5 May 96) n. pa. Online. World Wide Web. 24 Apr 98 Avail. http://www.mobileregister.com/books/b1960505.htm

Schnuer, Jenny, ed. "Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West." n.pa. Online. World Wide Web. 24 Apr 98. Avail. http://www.bookwire.com/PW/Nonfiction/read.review$622

No Author Available. "Author Profile: Stephen E. Ambrose" The Denver Post (18 Jan 98) n. pa. Online. World Wide Web. 24 Apr 98. Avail. http://www.denverpost.com/books/author23.htm

No Author Available. "Historian Stephen E. Ambrose ..." Pioneer Planet (16 Nov. 97) n. page. Online. World Wide Web. 24 Apr 98.  Avail. http://www.pioneerplanet.com/justgo/bks_docs/028477.htm

Ambrose, Stephen E. Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West. New York: Simon & Schuster 1996. 

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Last updated May 16, 2010
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