TO AMERICA: Personal Reflections of an Historian

Article excerpt

TO AMERICA: Personal Reflections of an Historian, Stephen E. Ambrose, Simon and Schuster Paperback, New York, 2003, 265 pages, $14.00.

Stephen Ambrose was a great storyteller. He was loud, pugnacious, occasionally profane, loved life, loved America, and loved regaling his audiences with his knowledge of America's history. To America: Personal Reflections of an Histor-ian was completed just before Ambrose's death in 2002.

The book is a highly personal rendering of America's story from the time of the Founding Fathers to the present day. Ambrose's retelling of over 200 years of American history draws almost exclusively from his own literary output.

The book has virtues and faults similar to those found in Ambrose's previous books, but he was learned, witty, defiantly politically incorrect, and wrote and spoke plainly and bluntly. At the same time, To America is sloppily edited and facts are poorly checked. For example, President Theodore Roosevelt and son Theodore, Jr., are not the only father-son Medal of Honor recipients; that group also includes General Douglas MacArthur and his son Arthur.

The book contains too many simplistic, vaguely embarrassing assertions and unsupported declarations, a failing that has plagued Ambrose's late work and caused some readers to squirm. For instance, the U.S. Marines are "The Best Damn Fighting Men in the World!" and "Our greatest strength is that American kids are brought up to know right from wrong." There is no evidence here of the plagiarism that fouled his book, The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys Who Flew the F-24 's Over Germany 1944-45 (Simon & Schuster, New York, 2001), but essentially, he has plagiarized himself in book after book by repeating his ceaseless paeans to the "greatest generation," "citizen soldiers," and "the American Spirit. …