"I am a storyteller by training and inclination," writes the late Stephen Ambrose in To America, his final book. And what a storyteller. One of the most respected and popular historians of his era, Ambrose had a passion for making the events of the past both relevant and entertaining. In these pages, he touches on many of the subjects that he devoted his career to, including presidents Eisenhower and Nixon, the journey of Lewis and Clark, the building of the transcontinental railroad, and the citizen soldiers of World War II. He also writes about his own personal story and his role as a historian. In detailing a family camping trip to Wounded Knee (an outing which directly led to his dual biography of Crazy Horse and George Armstrong Custer) or offering tips on vivid historical writing (keep your narration in chronological order; keep the reader guessing; and never use the passive voice), he shares what it is like to reflect upon the triumphs and mistakes of the past and why it is so important to pass those stories on to the next generation.
In this brief yet satisfying book, Ambrose moves seamlessly from one topic to the next with contagious enthusiasm and unapologetic optimism. Along the way he points out the inherent absurdity of political correctness, and even takes himself to task for past biases and for sometimes failing to consider his subjects within the context of their own times and not his own. He does not shy away from writing about America's sins, both past and present, but Ambrose's undying faith in his country and his fellow citizens is inspiring. --Shawn Carkonen
From Publishers Weekly
Before his recent, untimely death from cancer, Ambrose seemed to feel he had reached that age when a historian should write a memoir, which means writing yet another history book but replacing footnotes and analysis with anecdotes and opinions. Ambrose castigates the slave-holding founders of American liberty, celebrates the heroes of the slighted Battle of New Orleans and argues that white settlers treated Native Americans no worse than the tribes treated one another. On he goes, damning and praising, through the Vietnam War (which he firmly opposed), appending personal observations on racism, immigration, women's rights and America's nation-building mission. Halfway through, he pauses to recount his development as a historian and writer, from his master's thesis and his biographies of Eisenhower and Nixon to his more recent, bestselling books Undaunted Courage, Nothing Like It in the World and numerous titles on WWII. This personal narrative, dropped into the middle of the book, with revelations about his family life and encounters with famous war veterans, is what Ambrose fans really want to read. It is a pity that Ambrose (or his editors) decided to structure his ruminations and reflections according to historical chronology, because readers looking for his life story will have to take notes and write it themselves. In the process, Ambrose apparently hopes, they will learn what he claims the study of other men's lives has taught him: a broad-minded sympathy that acknowledges an individual's flaws yet focuses on positive achievements.
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