on October 30, 2002
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.
on December 16, 2002
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.
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.
on December 31, 2002
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.
on October 7, 2004
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.
- He writes how he originally felt revulsion over the Atom Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, until he discovered how fully prepared Japan was to commit collective hari-kari over an American invasion of the home islands. He cites how one American officer, future NATO commander Andrew Goodpaster, in projecting American casualties, figured that 800,000 Americans would either be killed or wounded in an assault on Japan, and that Truman's decision to drop the bombs was not only a just one - but a necessary one that saved the lives of both Americans and Japanese.
- He writes of how he was educated to dislike Theodore Roosevelt as a blowhard and braggart - and then grew to admire him for both his domestic and foreign policies.
- And how he met and wrote about those "Bands of Brothers", whether they be the men from U.S. 101st Airborne who fought from the Normandy Drop Zones to Hitler's "Eagles Nest", Major John Howard, of the British 6th Airborne who secured "Pegasus Bridge" and of the German Panzer General Von Luck, who opposed Howard and the Red Berets at Pegasus Bridge yet became a firm friend of that gallant man of the Airborne after the war.
- He writes of how he grew to dislike and vocally oppose our Vietnam involvement yet how he also fully respected the American soldiers, sailors, and airmen who fought there.
Ambrose also wrote of how America, after 9/11 still remained the last best hope of mankind, and how this nation is a force for good, not evil. He wrote all this in a slim, readable volume that should be passed on from generation to generation. For it was not just Stephen Ambrose's lasting legacy - but a lasting legacy from a beloved historian to all Americans.
At 6.99 this book deserves an honored place in the libraries of all thoughtful Americans.
on December 1, 2002
The subtitle of this final book by Stephen Ambrose tells it all - "Personal Reflections Of An Historian". This book is NOT a story or a historical perspective. It is the story of Stephen Ambrose and his perspective along with the major characters he wrote and about and feels a certain connection.
Ambrose became famous by hitting the emotional and sentimental bulls eye of Americas retrospective look at World War II. He accomplished this by seeing the war from the perspective of the common soldier. However, Ambrose started as a historian writing about great historical leaders like Henry Halleck, Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon.
This final book takes another look at Ambrose's life and the characters he met in his travels or his research. It does not shed new light on characters or tell a new story. It does tell the authors story.
This is a great book if you enjoy talking to our more mature citizens. Ambrose was near the end of his life when he wrote this book and he knew it. This was his chance to, like Grant, record his actions and thoughts for posterity while providing for his family. In the end you see that Ambrose enjoyed a wonderful life by sharing his love of the past with his family and those great people that made history.
For a wildly prolific academic historian who, by the end of his illustrious career, had become a kind of one-man cottage industry by pumping out a steady stream of excellent historical works on World War Two, Lewis and Clark, and a number of other important subjects, his declaration early on in this poignant memoir that he is a storyteller is a magnificent understatement by a man not known for his modesty or introversion. Stephen Ambrose may or may not have been the best American historian and biographer of the last decade, but he certainly was, hands-down, the single most prolific of his generation. His catalogue of World War Two histories and biographies alone is breath taking in its breadth and content, and he loved to tackle other important historical issues, as well, as his best-selling portrait of the Lewis and Clark expedition so wonderfully illustrates.
Yet, while I have often been a fan of the works he pushed out with almost monotonous regularity during the 1990s, I have to admit to having been a bit put out by the man himself, who I never found to be particularly erudite academically, and who was found sometimes notoriously ungracious to others within his profession. But the true measure of historian's contribution must be located in the welter of his works, rather than in his personal habits, character, or foibles, and therein lies what must be considered a most remarkable corpus of work that will continue to be read, studied, and appreciated for decades to come.
This is a short and intensely personal book. I read it over the last weekend, my swollen right ankle propped up on a pillow on the leather couch after slipping down the ice-covered stone stairway on the deck of the house. Yet the throbbing pain in my ankle seemed suddenly less important and less real as I was swept away by this fellow historian who clearly has such a wonderful gift for story telling. The vignettes and situations he describes came alive for me, and I found myself wishing he had written more of this sort of thing along the way now that he has vanished from our presence, likely striding over the battlefields of Valhalla and laughing, smoking one his omni-present cigarettes and laughing that hoarse southern cackle of his.
Stephen Ambrose will long be remembered for this work, and likely by the parade of memorable students he had who are now among the ranks of professional historians themselves. His body of work and his sense of dedication to telling the human stories so important (and so often neglected) in history will stand in singular relief as a testament to important academic work done in a quite distinctive and most memorable way. His own ability to recognize the importance of locating the acting individual in the context of his existential, social, and political situation while telling the single solitary person's story will offer those of us still standing a remarkable standard to hold up in order to measure our own burgeoning efforts. This, then, is a wistful, emotional, and memorable book, and one I can recommend for anyone wanting a more personal glimpse at a man who gave much and who will always remain in our collective memories. Enjoy!
on May 4, 2003
Mr. Ambrose presents a fascinating life in To America. After years a research and telling the stories of history, and helping his readers to comprehend pivotal events in history, Mr. Ambrose lets us into his heart and mind. It has always amazed me how historians can write and research on subjects they dislike; Ambrose gives us perspective on Nixon and almost thankless characters from history. What is so extraordinary is the care with which Ambrose tells the story of the people and events he admires and respects. A historian makes a unique kind of patriot: a believer in the American way of life who loves it so much that he can talk of the very best and the very worst of our society. In this book, Ambrose steps into the whirlwind of public opinion rather than writing observations from the outside. It shows us his love of the land, and most of all, his love of the people, all of the people, who have shaped our great nation over the last 2 centuries.
on January 6, 2003
Who said that great storytellers had to tell original stories? Stephen Ambrose is more than just a historian, he's the storyteller of America. He doesn't write history books, he writes the stories of Americans during historical times, which is far better than any academic book on anything in US history. Ambrose finds the common man inside of the role players in key events in US history and provides his own personal insight as to what we as Americans can learn from them. I suggest this book to anybody who is looking for inspiration in American history. Thank God Stephen Ambrose was alive.
on April 13, 2004
A summary of events and important people in American history from the beginning of our independence to the present century, Stephen E. Ambrose takes us on a journey of enlightenment from his perspective, allowing us to form our own opinions while eagerly reading his.
Part autobiographical, he shares his personal history and the love and support from his wife and five children. They researched together, spent vacations in the west exploring the Lewis and Clark trail, and respected one another. How refreshing.
As the title aptly reads, Personal Reflections of an Historian, the reader is captivated by his unique stories which include his long association with Dwight Eisenhower whom he reveres as the brightest and wisest leader of the past century; his part in establishing a World War II National D Day Museum in New Orleans; his encounter with a German officer; a thrilling description of the Battle of New Orleans; his research on Richard Nixon; the war in Vietnam, and many many more insightful
chapters on various subjects.
Every chapter of this book for Americans is worthy of our reading time so that we too, can form our own opinions concerning each subject. It should be required reading as an overview of our country with its movers and shakers, heroes and villians, mistakes and progress, for all our leaders - the president included!
I was impressed by the fact that this worthy historian is unashamed to admit his own bias in some cases and how he eventually changes his thinking as he makes new discoveries.
He compares a number of presidents and their leadership, as well as taking us to the battlefields with America's brave fighting men. Thanks to this author and his numerous books, and to Tom Brokaw, we will not be allowed to forget the price paid by the veterans in all our wars.
Wonderful stories, interesting reflections from a well-educated professor and historian, and a great book for a discussion group. Read and enjoy!