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To America: Personal Reflections of an Historian First Edition Edition

4.2 out of 5 stars 97 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0743202756
ISBN-10: 0743202759
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"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.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (November 19, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743202759
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743202756
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (97 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #722,779 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.

Amazon Author Rankbeta 

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#39 in Books > History
#39 in Books > History

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I strongly recommend this book to be read as a goodbye from Ambrose. A wave goodbye from the other side with a final word, "History should be studied by objective minds that refuse to view the people of the past through the eyes of our 21st century." Ambrose covers a lot of territory in this book; therefore he presents the most important points of the subject at hand. A previous reviewer was unfair in his assessment of Ambrose not going into as much detail as he should. If he had, then it would've required a separate book for each subject.

Ambrose's last testament begs the question of how political correctness has bastardized history and that it's time historians and professors document history correctly and teach it honestly.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Whenever Stephen Ambrose would be asked which of his books is his best, he would answer by saying his latest one. This effort entitled "To America" is not the longest by any stretch, but of the half dozen of his books that I have read, I enjoyed this one the most. Ambrose covers America from our country's beginnings right into the year 2002 when he died. Obviously he can't go into the detail he did in other efforts, but he covers our nation's history in succinct detail and explaining why he admires men such as Ulysses Grant, Andrew Jackson, Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and Jackie Robinson. History, Ambrose tells us, "is about people, and nothing could be more fascinating to people than other people, living in a different time, in different circumstances." This is about people who are well known and those who are not, who have made significant contributions to America who we owe a debt of thanks for their life. Ambrose says the technological improvements of the 19th century became killing machines that turned the great wars of the 20th century into the worst century ever. Racism, women's rights, nation building, and the threat we face from the Islamic world are other subjects Ambrose touches on. The book is only 252 pages long, and if you are looking for an outstanding summary of our country's history this book will certainly hold your interest.
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Format: Hardcover
Stephen Ambrose was one of America's premier historical authors. Any topic he chose to write on was thoroughly researched and the story crafted in a way other authors of the genre were hard pressed to match. I didn't always agree with what I read, but I new the work came from a consumate teacher and researcher.
To America: Personal Reflections on an Historian is a wonderful book to read if for no other reason than the varied topics he covers. Everything from Custer, Crazy Horse and the Little Big Horn to the Transcontinental Railroad; from Eisenhower to Nixon. But this book also displays the same endearing qualities as Ambrose's other works. His attention to detail and his ability to tell the story that is interesting are present. If you haven't read any of his other books you will after reading To America. If you're an old fan, you may want to dig out your old copies and have a go at them again.
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Format: Hardcover
First of all this book is somewhat of a ramble. Ambrose jumps from one subject to the next and interweaves personal narrative throughout. His not shying from letting his opinion be known makes 'To America' so appealing.
Stephen Ambrose certainly had a gift. It was the gift of story telling. Perhaps more accurate description would be story "re-telling". That is, he was a superior listener who had a knack for asking the right questions. In my opinion his greatest books were the ones were he was able to interview eyewitnesses to the accounts - it is here that he shined the brightest.
Ambrose lets it be known that he has is a proud American. His pride is not arrogance, but is a contentment in the ideals which make America great. (work ethic, freedom, power to the people, honesty, justice...) However, he is also a writer who is quick to point out flaws as well. This type of personal judgment is refreshing in contrast to writers who stay far from their subjects - ending is writing that is dry and detached.
Ambrose's love of history and his passion for stories will be sorely missed and this book reminds us of why that is true.
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Format: Hardcover
Stephen Ambrose knew how to write history that was accessible, gripping, solid, and pretty much on target.

He had planned to write a work similiar to "Band of Brothers" and "The Victors" about the Pacific War, when he was told he had terminal cancer. Like U.S. Grant, a man whom Ambrose had written much of and clearly respected, Ambrose faced death not just with courage - but fighting to the end as he wrote this historical love song to America.

In "To America", Ambrose writes movingly about himself, his family, why he chose to be a Historian,the great American Historians who were his mentors - Hesseltine and T. Harry Williams, how his M.A. thesis - the published biography of the Civil War General Henry Halleck prompted Dwight Eisenhower to call upon Ambrose to edit his papers. Ambrose also writes how he never wanted to write about Richard Nixon, but having done so, found himself respecting, if not liking that complex former President.

In "To America" Ambrose writes about our major events in a narrative that reads as if he were talking to the American people in their living rooms. He writes how:

- U.S. Grant meant to enforce Reconstruction and preserve the rights of Black Americans, but was unable to do so because the weary North no longer had the desire nor the will to confront a bitter South over Reconstruction policies 10 years after Appomattox.

- That there was no deliberate policy by the U.S. Government to wipe out the Indian tribes; but that a combination of factors, disease, inter-tribal conflict, even buffalo killing by Native Americans, as well as White lies, Manifest Destiny, and the Plains Wars marked the demise of the Indian grip on the territories of the West.
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