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Stephen E. Ambrose
Ambrose in August 2001
Born Stephen Edward Ambrose
(1936-01-10)January 10, 1936
Lovington, Illinois, U.S.
Died October 13, 2002(2002-10-13) (aged 66)
Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, U.S.
Occupation Historian, Author
Spouse(s) Moira Ambrose

Stephen Edward Ambrose (January 10, 1936 – October 13, 2002) was an American historian and biographer of U.S. Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard Nixon. He was a longtime professor of history at the University of New Orleans and the author of many best selling volumes of American popular history. Beginning late in his life and continuing after his death, however, evidence and reports have continued to surface documenting longtime patterns of plagiarism, falsification, and inaccuracies in many of his published writings and other work. In response to one of the early reports, Ambrose said he was not "out there stealing other people's writings."

Early life

Ambrose was born in Lovington, Illinois[1] to Rosepha Trippe Ambrose and Stephen Hedges Ambrose. His father was a physician who served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. Ambrose was raised in Whitewater, Wisconsin,[2] where he graduated from Whitewater High School. His family also owned a farm in Lovington, Illinois and vacation property in Marinette County, Wisconsin.[3][4] He attended college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he was a member of Chi Psi Fraternity and played on the University of Wisconsin football team for three years.[5]

Ambrose originally wanted to major in pre-medicine, but changed his major to history after hearing the first lecture in a U.S. history class entitled "Representative Americans" in his sophomore year. The course was taught by William B. Hesseltine, whom Ambrose credits with fundamentally shaping his writing and igniting his interest in history.[6] While at Wisconsin, Ambrose was a member of the Navy and Army ROTC, as well as Chi Psi fraternity. He graduated with a B.A. in 1957. He also married his first wife, Judith Dorlester, in 1957, and they had two children, Stephenie and Barry. According to Ambrose, Judith died at age 27, when he was 29.[7] A year or two later he married his second wife, Moira Buckley, and adopted her three children, Hugh, Grace, and Andrew.[8] Ambrose received a master's degree in history from Louisiana State University in 1958, studying under T. Harry Williams.[6] Ambrose then went on to earn a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1963, under William B. Hesseltine.[6][9]


Academic positions

Ambrose was a history professor from 1960 until his retirement in 1995, having spent the bulk of his time at the University of New Orleans, where he was Boyd Professor of History.[9] During the academic year 1969-70, he was Ernest J. King Professor of Maritime History at the Naval War College. In 1970, while teaching at Kansas State University, Ambrose participated in heckling of Richard Nixon during a speech the president gave on the KSU campus. Given pressure from the KSU administration and having job offers elsewhere, upon finishing out the year Ambrose offered to leave and the offer was accepted.[7][10] Ambrose also taught at Louisiana State University, Johns Hopkins University, Rutgers University, U.C. Berkeley, and a number of European schools.[6]

He was the founder of the Eisenhower Center at the University of New Orleans and President of the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana. The National Geographic Society provided Ambrose with an Explorer-in-Residence position.[11]


Ambrose's earliest works concerned the Civil War. He wrote biographies of the generals Emory Upton and Henry Halleck, the first of which was based on his dissertation.[12]

Early in his career, Ambrose was mentored by World War II historian Forrest Pogue.[13][14] In 1964, Ambrose took a position at Johns Hopkins as the Associate Editor of the Eisenhower Papers, a project aimed at organizing, cataloging and publishing Eisenhower's principal papers. From this work and discussions with Eisenhower emerged an article critical of Cornelius Ryan’s The Last Battle, which had depicted Eisenhower as politically naîve, when at the end of World War II he allowed Soviet forces to take Berlin, thus shaping the Cold War that followed.[15] Ambrose expanded this into a book, Eisenhower and Berlin, 1945: The Decision to Halt at the Elbe.[16]

In 1964 Ambrose was commissioned to write the official biography of the former president and five-star general Dwight D. Eisenhower.[16] This resulted in a book on Eisenhower's war years (published 1970) and a two-volume full biography (published 1983 and 1984), which are considered "the standard" on the subject.[17] Ambrose also wrote a three-volume biography of Richard Nixon. Although Ambrose was a strong critic of Nixon, the biography is considered fair and just regarding Nixon's presidency.[18]

His books, Band of Brothers (1992) and D-Day (1994), presented from the view points of individual soldiers in World War II, brought his works into mainstream American culture. His Citizen Soldiers, and The Victors became bestsellers. He also wrote the popular book, The Wild Blue, that looked at World War II aviation. His other major works include Undaunted Courage about the Lewis and Clark Expedition and Nothing Like It in the World about the construction of the Pacific Railroad. His final book, This Vast Land, a historical novel about the Lewis & Clark expedition written for young readers, was published posthumously in 2003.

Television, film, and other activities

Ambrose appeared as a historian in the 1974 ITV television series, The World at War, which detailed the history of World War II. The HBO mini-series, Band of Brothers (2001), for which he was an executive producer, helped sustain the fresh interest in World War II that had been stimulated by the 50th anniversary of D-Day in 1994 and the 60th anniversary in 2004. He was also the military adviser for the movie Saving Private Ryan. In addition, Ambrose served as a commentator for Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery, a documentary by Ken Burns.[11]

In addition to his academic work and publishing, Ambrose operated a historical tour business, acting as a tour guide to European locales of World War II.[12] He was a founder of the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana.[19]


In 1998, he received the National Humanities Medal.[2] In 2000, Ambrose received the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguished Public Service, the highest honorary award the Department of Defense offers to civilians.[11] In 2001, he was awarded the Theodore Roosevelt Medal for Distinguished Service from the Theodore Roosevelt Association.[20] Ambrose won an Emmy as one of the producers for the mini-series Band of Brothers.[11] Ambrose also received the George Marshall Award, the Abraham Lincoln Literary Award, the Bob Hope Award from the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, and the Will Rogers Memorial Award.[11]

Personal life, final years, and death

Ambrose married his wife Moira Buckley (1939–2009) in 1968 following his first wife's suicide; they had five children, two from his first marriage and three from her first marriage, and she was an active assistant in his writing and academic projects. After retiring, he maintained homes in Helena, Montana and Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.[12][21] A longtime smoker, he was diagnosed with lung cancer in April 2002. His health deteriorated rapidly and seven months after the diagnosis he died, at the age of 66.[2]


Plagiarism controversy

In 2002, Ambrose was accused, by Sally Richardson and others, of plagiarizing several passages in his book, The Wild Blue.[22][23] Fred Barnes reported in The Weekly Standard that Ambrose had taken passages from Wings of Morning: The Story of the Last American Bomber Shot Down over Germany in World War II, by Thomas Childers, a history professor at the University of Pennsylvania.[24] Ambrose had footnoted sources, but had not enclosed in quotation marks, numerous passages from Childers' book.[23][25] Ambrose asserted that only a few sentences in all his numerous books were the work of other authors. He offered this defense:

I tell stories. I don't discuss my documents. I discuss the story. It almost gets to the point where, how much is the reader going to take? I am not writing a Ph.D. dissertation.

I wish I had put the quotation marks in, but I didn't. I am not out there stealing other people's writings. If I am writing up a passage and it is a story I went to tell and this story fits and a part of it is from other people's writing, I just type it up that way and put it in a footnote. I just want to know where the hell it came from.[23]

A Forbes investigation of his work found cases of plagiarism involving passages in at least six books, with a similar pattern going all the way back to his doctoral dissertation.[26] The History News Network lists seven of Ambrose's works--The Wild Blue, Undaunted Courage, Nothing Like It In the World, Nixon: Ruin and Recovery, Citizen Soldiers, The Supreme Commander, and Crazy Horse and Custer—contained content copied from twelve authors.[25]

Factual errors and disputed characterizations

World War II

In the 1973 ITV television series, The World at War, episode 25, From War to Peace, Ambrose made basic factual errors. He said:

"Manpower losses were almost insignificant; compared to the other combatants, insignificant. Only slightly more than a quarter of a million Americans died during the war. America was the least mobilized of all the nations, of all the major combatants in World War II. Altogether, we had an army and navy and air force of 12 million men out of a total population of 170 million. And of that 12 million, probably less than six million ever got overseas."[27]

While American manpower losses as a percentage of population were insignificant compared to the majority of combatants, his manpower and population estimates were heavily flawed. The population of the United States during the war was 131 million, of which nearly 16.6 million served in the armed forces during World War II, including 241,093 in the Coast Guard, and 243,000 in the Merchant Marine. Military deaths were 405,399.[28] According to U.S. census data, 73 percent of military personnel served abroad during World War II.[29][citation needed]

Pacific Railroad

A front page article published in The Sacramento (CA) Bee on January 1, 2001, entitled Area Historians Rail Against Inaccuracies in Book,[30] listed more than sixty instances identified as "significant errors, misstatements, and made-up quotes" in Nothing Like It in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad, 1863–1869, Ambrose's non-academic popular history about the construction of the Pacific Railroad between Council Bluffs, Iowa/Omaha, Nebraska and the San Francisco Bay at Alameda/Oakland via Sacramento, California, which was published in August, 2000. The discrepancies were documented in a detailed "fact-checking" paper compiled in December, 2000 by three Western US railroad historians who are also experienced researchers, consultants, and collectors specializing in the Pacific Railroad and related topics.[25][31][32]

On January 11, 2001, Washington Post columnist Lloyd Grove reported in his column, The Reliable Source, that a co-worker had found a "serious historical error" in the same book that "a chastened Ambrose" promised to correct in future editions.[33] A number of journal reviews also sharply criticized the research and fact checking in the book. Reviewer Walter Nugent observed that it contained "annoying slips" such as mislabeled maps, inaccurate dates, geographical errors, and misidentified word origins,[34] while Don L. Hofsommer agreed that the book "confuses facts" and that "The research might best be characterized as 'once over lightly'."[35]

The Eisenhower controversy

In the introduction to Ambrose's biography of Eisenhower he claims that Eisenhower approached him after having read his previous biography of Henry Halleck, but Tim Rives, Deputy Director of the Eisenhower Presidential Center, says it was Ambrose who contacted Eisenhower and suggested the project,[36][37] as shown by a letter from Ambrose found in the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum.[38]

After Eisenhower's death in 1969, Ambrose made repeated claims to have had a unique and extraordinarily close relationship with him over the final five years of the former President's life. In an extensive 1998 interview, for instance, Ambrose stated that he spent "a lot of time with Ike, really a lot, hundreds and hundreds of hours." Ambrose claimed he interviewed Eisenhower on a wide range of subjects, and that he had been with him "on a daily basis for a couple years" before his death "doing interviews and talking about his life."[7] The former president's diary and telephone records show that the pair met only three times, for a total of less than five hours.[16][36] Rives has stated that interview dates Ambrose cites in his 1970 book, The Supreme Commander, cannot be reconciled with Eisenhower's personal schedule. After this conflict came to light Ambrose was less specific when citing dates of interviews with Eisenhower.[36][37]


Sole author

With others


  1. "Biography and Video Interview of Stephen Ambrose at Academy of Achievement". Retrieved 2012-07-30. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Richard Goldstein, "Stephen Ambrose, Historian Who Fueled New Interest in World War II, Dies at 66," New York Times, October 14, 2002, accessed May 27, 2010.
  3. Neil H. Shively (September 19, 1996). "A Class Act: Stephen Ambrose's History Lectures Enthrall Kids and War Veterans Alike.". The Capital Times, Madison, WI. 
  4. Ambrose, Stephen E. Comrades: Brothers, Fathers, Heroes, Sons, Pals. Simon & Schuster, 2000, p. 132.
  5. Historian Stephen Ambrose dies CNN, October 14, 2002.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Stephen E. Ambrose bio by Stephen Ambrose.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Interview with Stephen Ambrose May 22, 1998, Academy of Achievement, Washington, D.C.
  8. "Stephen Edward Ambrose – biography". 2006-10-03. Retrieved 2012-07-30. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 Christian A. Hale, "Stephen Ambrose Dies," Perspectives, December, 2002.
  10. Alan Brinkley, "The Best Man", New York Times Review of Books, July 16, 1987.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 Historian Steven Ambrose Dead at 66, National Geographic News, October 15, 2002.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 M. R. D. Foote, "Stephen Ambrose: Historian and author of Band of Brothers," The Independent, October 14, 2002, accessed May 27, 2010.
  13. Art Jester. Ambrose Installs New Faith in Some Old Heroes. Lexington Herald-Leader. November 9, 1997.
  14. Gwendolyn Thompkins. Ambrose to Leave Historic Legacy: UNO Prof in Colin Powell’s Camp. Times-Picayune. April 30, 1995.
  15. Stephen E. Ambrose, "Refighting the Last Battle: The Pitfalls of Popular History," by Stephen E. Ambrose, Wisconsin Magazine of History, vol. 49, no. 4 (Summer 1966), pp. 294-301.
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Timothy D. Rives, "Ambrose and Eisenhower: A View from the Stacks in Abilene," History News Network, May 17, 2010.
  17. Jim Newton, "Books & Ideas: Stephen Ambrose's troubling Eisenhower record," Los Angeles Times, May 9, 2010, accessed May 26, 2010. "His work on Eisenhower is penetrating and readable, lively, balanced and insightful. Indeed, these efforts have long stood alongside Fred Greenstein's The Hidden-Hand Presidency as the standards against which other Eisenhower scholarship is judged."
  18. Neuhaus, Richard J. "Nixon: The Education of a Politician 1913-1962, by Stephen E. Ambrose" (book review), Commentary Magazine, August 1987. "Nixon is competently, sometimes brightly, written, and one gets the impression that Ambrose is striving, above all, to be assiduously fair."
  19. National World War II Museum, about the founder, accessed August 10, 2011.
  20. Theodore Roosevelt Association, The Theodore Roosevelt Distinguished Service Medal Recipients.
  21. "Stephen E. Ambrose, Ph.D.". Academy of Achievement. Retrieved August 12, 2011. 
  22. Williams, Robert Chadwell. The Historian's Toolbox: A Student's Guide to the Theory and Craft of History Armonk NY: M E Sharpe Inc (2003) ISBN 0-7656-1093-0 pp 88-89
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 David D. Kirkpatrick, "As Historian's Fame Grows, So Does Attention to Sources," New York Times, January 11, 2002, accessed May 27, 2010.
  24. Writing History PBS News Hour discussion of plagiarism by historians, January 28, 2002.
  25. 25.0 25.1 25.2 "How the Ambrose Story Developed," History News Network, June 2002.
  26. Mark Lewis, "Ambrose Problems Date Back To Ph.D. Thesis," Forbes, May 10, 2002.
  27. The World at War, episode 35, time: 15 minutes, personal transcription.
  28. "Congressional Research Report – American War and Military Operations Casualties. Updated February 26, 2010" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-07-30. 
  29. "Section 10. National Defense and Veterans Affairs". No. 523. Armed Forces Personnel -- Summary of Major Conflicts. U.S. Federal Government. p. 8. Retrieved May 10, 2011. 
  30. Barrows, Matthew "Area Historians Rail Against Inaccuracies in Book". The Sacramento Bee, January 1, 2001
  31. Graves, G.J., Strobridge, E.T., & Sweet, C.N.The Sins of Stephen E. Ambrose The Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum (, December 19, 2000
  32. Stobridge E. (2002). Stephen Ambrose: Off the Rails. History News Network.
  33. Grove, Lloyd "The Reliable Source" The Washington Post, January 11, 2001
  34. Walter Nugent, Review: Nothing Like It in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad, 1863-1869 by Stephen E. Ambrose, The Journal of American History, vol. 88, no. 2 (Sep. 2001), p. 657.
  35. Don L. Hofsommer, untitled review, Technology and Culture, vol. 43, no. 1 (Jan. 2002), pp. 169-170.
  36. 36.0 36.1 36.2 Rayner, Richard (April 26, 2010). "Channelling Ike". Retrieved 2010-05-11. 
  37. 37.0 37.1 Goldman, Russell (April 27, 2010). "Did Historian Stephen Ambrose Lie About Interviews with President Dwight D. Eisenhower?". ABC News. Retrieved 2010-05-11. 
  38. Rayner, Richard. "Uncovering Stephen Ambrose’s fake Eisenhower interviews". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2012-07-30. 

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