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Duty, Honor, Country: A History of West Point Paperback – December 1, 1999

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Editorial Reviews Review

Duty, Honor, Country: the motto of the United States Military Academy has resounded for more than 200 years. Stephen Ambrose charts the history of West Point from its origins in the Revolutionary War--when students attached to engineering and artillery regiments studied the rudiments of strategy, but mostly came and went as they pleased--to the academy's time of crisis during the Vietnam War. Ambrose's narrative centers on West Point's superintendents, the Army officers who emphasized both tradition and innovation over the years--men such as Sylvanus Thayer, who commanded from 1817 to 1833 and who introduced customs that are still observed today; and Douglas MacArthur, who joined personal flamboyance with a deep-seated commitment to martial, academic, and athletic excellence. (Among MacArthur's other contributions was his codification of the "honor system," a set of self-policing regulations that distinguishes West Point from any other nation's military colleges.) Ambrose does not gloss over the academy's less exalted moments, especially the frictions brought on by the Civil War, when many Northerners accused West Point as a whole of being proslavery. Writing in an afterword that brings the history of the academy to the present, former superintendent Andrew Goodpaster confronts such matters as the honor code scandal of 1976 and the cultural changes brought on by the admission of women to the academy in the same year. Yet this book is a fitting celebration of an institution that has been of central importance to the American military. Originally published in 1966, at the start of his career, Duty, Honor, Country shows Stephen Ambrose's skills as researcher and popularizer, skills that he would go on to develop in such later books as Undaunted Courage and Citizen Soldiers. --Gregory McNamee


Throughout history every great nation has kept in its treasure-chest an academy for advanced learning and military training. Steven Ambrose's history leaves the reader with a greater understanding of the relationship between our treasure, West Point, and the society it supports.


There have been many other histories of West Point, but this is the best... From this excellent book every American will find interest and take pride in this truly national institution that has played so great a part in the building of the country.

(Historical Time)

The title of this first-rate account of the United States Military Academy is drawn from the Academy's motto... [Ambrose] follows the long gray line through history, skillfully re-creating the administrations of West Point's outstanding superintendents (Sylvanus Thayer and Douglas MacArthur), telling some amusing anecdotes about cadets 'who simply refused to conform to the West Point mold' (James McNeill Whistler and Edgar Allan Poe).

(New York Times Book Review)

The conception of West Point, as Ambrose makes clear in his short history of the Military Academy, was immaculately Jeffersonian. It was a school to train engineers―that most liberal, nonaristocratic, and socially useful branch of the military service―not in order to create a corps d'élite but to provide the reservoir of military expertise which was needed if the militia ideal were to become a practical reality... Ambrose has told this story clearly and well; he is at his best in tying it to the larger context of American politics, social attitudes, and higher education.

(Journal of American History)

A welcome addition to the growing literature on military education. Ambrose covers the whole history of West Point, from the first feeble beginnings under President Jefferson down to the present. He has carefully examined both the published and unpublished sources and has rounded out the basic data with numerous interviews.

(Journal of Higher Education)

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press (December 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801862930
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801862939
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #365,405 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Dr. Stephen Ambrose was a renowned historian and acclaimed author of more than 30 books. Among his New York Times best-sellers are: Nothing Like It in the World, Citizen Soldiers, Band of Brothers, D-Day - June 6, 1944, and Undaunted Courage.He was not only a great author, but also a captivating speaker, with the unique ability to provide insight into the future by employing his profound knowledge of the past. His stories demonstrate how leaders use trust, friendship and shared experiences to work together and thrive during conflict and change. His philosophy about keeping an audience engaged is put best in his own words: "As I sit at my computer, or stand at the podium, I think of myself as sitting around the campfire after a day on the trail, telling stories that I hope will have the members of the audience, or the readers, leaning forward just a bit, wanting to know what happens next." Dr. Ambrose was a retired Boyd Professor of History at the University of New Orleans. He was the Director Emeritus of the Eisenhower Center in New Orleans, and the founder of the National D-Day Museum. He was also a contributing editor for the Quarterly Journal of Military History, a member of the board of directors for American Rivers, and a member of the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Council Board. His talents have not gone unnoticed by the film industry. Dr. Ambrose was the historical consultant for Steven Spielberg's movie Saving Private Ryan. Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks purchased the film rights to his books Citizen Soldiers and Band of Brothers to make the 13-hour HBO mini-series Band of Brothers. He has also participated in numerous national television programs, including ones for the History Channel and National Geographic.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Kelley on June 16, 2000
Format: Paperback
Ambrose's 1964 history of the Military Academy is an easy flowing and enjoyable insight into many of the core traditions of West Point. Some of the early history seems dry at times, but provides a seldom seen picture of the politics of the early nineteenth century. As a grad, I learned much of WP's early history that I had never known of. It was delightful to see how much of the culture and tradition has remained relatively unchanged over 150 years. On the other hand, it was interesting to see the stark contrast that exists in many areas of cadet and army life from then to now.
Ambrose has organized his work in a manner that defines the developmental stages of the Academy, beginning with the concept of military academies as first initiated in Europe. He does an excellent job of telling of the internal, and uniquely American, concerns about putting too much power into the hands of an elite military authority versus being adequately prepared for the defense of the new nation. Ambrose describes the rather weak beginnings of the Academy, and takes the reader through the its generational evolution. Along the way he cites many examples of how West Point pioneered many of the educational changes in the early American collegiate environment, as well as describing the contributions made by many of the Academy grads. He intertwines his historical narrative with a look at the cultures and traditions of West Point and how they contribute to the education of the officer corps.
I would love to see Ambrose bring this work up to date, and provide his insight as an historian into the last 35 years at the academy. The current edition has been updated by the publisher to include an afterword by General Goodpastor.
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23 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Mark A. Savage on January 4, 2000
Format: Paperback
I enjoyed school a lot. I read a lot and played a lot. This new re-issue of Mr. Ambroise's writing reminds me of those history text books that were so difficult to read, still good, and full of information, but hard to read. This is not a reviting page turner like "D-Day" or "Citizen Soldiers", but if you want to learn details of the Academy, this is the source.
Written in 1965, it barely moves along. It is very interesting to see where the author has come from. In the forward, written by President Eisenhower, Mr. Ambroise is refered to as a "professor". AMEN! He has taught me a lot about West Point that I never knew of, or would care to know about. The author deals with details that I cannot imagine existing, never mind receiving is such detail. I have to take my hat off to the research, and work Mr. Ambroise put in on this book, but it's just not very entertaining like some of his others.
But, if you want to learn about American military culture, Jacksonian politics, and how Congress worked during the 19th Century, you got the right book. The frustration of a Congress that cannot see beyond it's own nose is very constant through the entire book. The Jacksonian era was wonderfully handled, and very surprising. I actually enjoyed this chapter. A new world opened for me. There are great pieces about Civil War personalities, quotes, and the conflict of principals between the Regular vs. Volunteer armies.
So, to quickly sum up. The book's not very exciting, so if that's what you want, stay away. The book is very intelligent, will teach you a lot, and is very, very detailed. If you want to learn something, then this is the right choice. I'm still a fan Mr. Ambroise!
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27 of 34 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 23, 2001
Format: Paperback
In my opinion, this book reads like a school book report. It is a disappointment, considering the reputation of the source -- Stephen Ambrose. Maybe I expected too much because the author is well known. On the other hand, I didn't expect too much from the not well known author Norman Thomas Remick and his book "West Point", and was most pleasantly surprised. But there you are, then. It's not what you do, it's who you know that counts.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Kelley on May 23, 2000
Format: Paperback
I found this early work of Ambrose to be an easy and interesting read and would recommend it to anyone interested in the history of the Military Academy. While the history of the academy is quite rich, Ambrose does an excellent job of providing a concise review of its significant points. The detailed narrative that readers of "Undaunted Courage" might expect is lacking in this work, but I believe "Duty, Honor, Country" flowed much more smoothly and was much easier to read. The book maintains a common thread throughout dealing with the mission of the academy and the expectations of the country for the academy and its graduates. The author does a wonderful job of laying the foundation for the academy's shaky beginnings in the young United States. As a graduate of West Point, I found Ambrose's analysis of its culture to be quite insightful. Since this book was originally published in 1964, the many recent changes which have challenged the academy are not covered -- I would dearly love to see Ambrose update this work The publishers of the current addition have attempted to provide an update by including an afterword by General Goodpaster, a grad and former superintendent. Unfortunately, I question the General's understanding and insight into the events of the last thirty years, especially the period covering the Vietnam era of the seventies. To a large degree I found the General's comments to be a somewhat self-serving review of the post-Vietnam changes at the academy - many of which he was instrumental in. In any event, those interested not only in the history of West Point, but also in the formative history of the early U.S., will find this book to be most enjoyable.
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