Stephen Ambrose

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Stephen Ambrose, at the 2001 premier of Band of Brothers
Stephen Ambrose, at the 2001 premier of Band of Brothers

Stephen Edward Ambrose (January 10, 1936October 13, 2002) was a popular historian and biographer of U.S. Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon. He grew up in Whitewater, Walworth County, Wisconsin and graduated from Whitewater High School. He earned a Ph.D. in history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Ambrose served as a professor of history at several universities from 1960 until his retirement in 1995, spending the bulk of his time at the University of New Orleans. At one of his stops, in 1970, he was driven from his position at Kansas State University after heckling then-President Richard Nixon during a speech on campus.

Early in his career Ambrose was mentored by World War II historian Forrest Pogue, and he was the author of numerous bestselling books about the war, including D-Day, Citizen Soldiers and The Victors. Other major works include Undaunted Courage, about Lewis and Clark, and Nothing Like It in the World, about the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad. He was the founder of the Eisenhower Center and President of the National D-Day Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana. He was military advisor on the movie Saving Private Ryan and was an executive producer on the television mini-series that was based on his work, Band of Brothers.

Eisenhower chose Ambrose as his biographer after admiring his work on Halleck: Lincoln's Chief of Staff, which was based on his doctoral dissertation. The resulting Eisenhower biographies were generally enthusiastic, but contained many criticisms of the former commander in chief.

Ambrose also wrote a highly regarded three-volume biography of Richard Nixon, also generally positive, but his Band of Brothers (1993) and D-Day (1994), about the lives and fates of individual soldiers in the World War II invasion catapulted him out of the ranks of academic history and into best-sellerdom.

Ambrose organized his entire family into a sort of "history factory" and began turning out popular books of history like The Wild Blue (2000). He attracted criticism, which his colleagues say was motivated by jealousy, for indiscriminate use of sources. In 2002, Ambrose was accused of plagiarizing several passages which he footnoted but did not enclose in the customary quotation marks. (source: New York Sun, Oct. 14, 2002, P. 2)

He offered this defense to the New York Times:

"I tell stories. I don't discuss my documents. I discuss the story. It almost gets to the point where, how much is the reader going to take? I am not writing a Ph.D. dissertation.
"I wish I had put the quotation marks in, but I didn't. I am not out there stealing other people's writings. If I am writing up a passage and it is a story I went to tell and this story fits and a part of it is from other people's writing, I just type it up that way and put it in a footnote. I just want to know where the hell it came from."

A heavy smoker for years, Stephen Ambrose died of lung cancer on October 13, 2002 and was interred in the Garden of Memory Cemetery, in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.

An unpublished novel will be published by Simon & Shuster Books for Young Readers. Entitled This Vast Land: A Young Man's Journal of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, it is a fictionalized account of 19-year-old George Shannon, the youngest member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Ambrose has appeared on and even been the feature of several documentaries — notably ABC's The Century, A&E's Biography and the acclaimed series The World at War. (Full filmography at IMDb).


A partial list of books:

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