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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 long time professor of history at the University of New Orleans.


Ambrose was born in Lovington, Illinoismarker, and raised in Whitewater, Wisconsinmarker, having graduated from Whitewater High School. His family also owned a farm in Lovington, Illinoismarker, and vacation property in Marinette County, Wisconsinmarker.

Ambrose originally wanted to get his major in premed, but decided to switch his major to history after hearing his teacher's first lecture in his U.S. history class entitled "Representative Americans" which he took his sophomore year in college. Ambrose went on to receive his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin–Madisonmarker in 1960. He served as a professor of history at several universities from 1960 until his retirement in 1995, having spent the bulk of his time at the University of New Orleans. For the academic year 1969-70, he was Ernest J. King Professor of Maritime History at the Naval War Collegemarker. In 1970 while teaching at Kansas State Universitymarker, Ambrose was asked to resign after having heckled President Nixon during a speech that the president gave on the KSU campus. He also taught at Louisiana State Universitymarker in Baton Rougemarker and the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimoremarker.

Early in his career, Ambrose was mentored by World War II historian Forrest Pogue. He was the author of several bestselling books about the war, including D-Day, Citizen Soldiers, and The Victors. His other major books include Undaunted Courage, about Lewis and Clark, and Nothing Like It in the World, about the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad. He was the founder of the Eisenhower Centermarker and President of the National World War II Museummarker in New Orleans, Louisianamarker. He was the military adviser in the movie Saving Private Ryan and was an executive producer on the television mini-series that was based on his book, Band of Brothers.

Former president and five-star general Dwight D. Eisenhower requested Ambrose as his biographer after admiring his work on Halleck: Lincoln's Chief of Staff, which was based on his doctoral dissertation. The resulting Eisenhower biographies were generally enthusiastic but contained many criticisms of the former commander in chief.

Ambrose also wrote a highly regarded three-volume biography of Richard Nixon. Although Ambrose was a vehement critic of Nixon's, the biography was lauded as being fair and just regarding Nixon's presidency . However his Band of Brothers (1993) and D-Day (1994), about the lives and fates of individual soldiers in the World War II invasion, placed his works into mainstream American culture. The mini-series 'Band of Brothers' (2001) lionized American troops and helped sustain the fresh interest in WWII that was stimulated by the 50th anniversary of D-Day in 1994, and the 60th anniversary of D-Day in 2004.

Ambrose has received criticism from American veterans. Veterans of troop carrier units that transported paratroopers in the American airborne landings in Normandy have severely criticized Ambrose for portraying them as unqualified and craven in several of his works, including Band of Brothers and D-Day, and for characterizing them as "cranks" when they asked that he change the passages. One online source notes numerous discrepancies and some apparent fabrications, many of which have disturbed other veterans of the 101st.

It is said that Ambrose organized his entire family into a sort of "history factory" and began turning out popular books of history like The Wild Blue. In 2002, Ambrose was accused of plagiarizing several passages which he footnoted but did not enclose in the required quotation marks.

Ambrose also appeared as a historian in the 25th episode, "Reckoning," of the ITV television series, The World at War, which details the history of World War II.

In 2001, Ambrose was awarded the Theodore Roosevelt Medal for Distinguished Public Service from the Theodore Roosevelt Association.

Ambrose, a longtime smoker, was diagnosed with lung cancer in April 2002. His condition deteriorated rapidly, and, seven months after the diagnosis, he died at the age of 66. He was survived by his wife, Moira, and children Andy, Barry, Hugh, Grace, and Stephenie.


Plagiarism controversy

In 2002, Ambrose was found to have plagiarized several passages in his book The Wild Blue by Sally Richardson and others. Fred Barnes in The Weekly Standard reported 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 Pennsylvaniamarker). Ambrose and his publisher, Simon and Schuster, released an apology as a result. Ambrose had only footnoted sources and did not enclose in direct quotes significant passages taken from Childers' book.

While Ambrose downplayed the incident, stating that only a few sentences in all of his numerous books were the work of other authors, Forbes's investigation of his work found similar cases of plagiarism involving entire passages in at least six books and found a similar pattern of plagiarism going all the way back to his doctoral thesis.

He offered this defense to the New York Times:

"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 want 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."

The "History News Network" web site of George Mason Universitymarker, however, in a web article entitled "How the Ambrose story developed", detailed seven of Ambrose's works that had plagiarized at least 12 authors.


Ambrose was also accused of using shoddy research in his works. Historians claimed that Nothing Like it in the World contained significant errors, as put forth in a report by Matthew Barrows in the January 1, 2001 edition of The Sacramento Bee, which listed some 50 text pages and six photo captions in which Ambrose "erred, misstated the facts or used quotes that cannot be substantiated with facts." According to Barrows, Ambrose cited his son Hugh as the primary research assistant for the book and chose not to respond. On January 11, 2001, Lloyd Grove, in The Washington Post column "The Reliable Source," reported that a co-worker found a "serious historical error" in the same book and that "a chastened Ambrose" promised to correct the error in new editions.

Ambrose also became the target of controversy in 1995 from U.S. Army Air Forces veterans who objected to his characterization of C-47 pilots as untrained and incompetent in the Normandy invasion. A letter-writing campaign noted that Ambrose did not interview a single troop carrier pilot among the 1,642 participating in Operation Neptune, nor did he consult official records, relying instead only on anecdotes of some paratroopers critical of the jumps. It also accused him of "reneging" on promises to correct the record before his death.

A similar controversy ensued when Ambrose, in two separate accounts, implied cowardice by a Britishmarker coxswain of a landing craft during the landings at Omaha Beachmarker. One writer claims that the first account, involving a Capt. Zappacosta from B Company, was apparently drawn from a writing by S.L.A. Marshall. The second of Ambrose's two accounts may have been drawn from the oral history of Sgt. J.R. Slaughter, D Company, 116th Infantry, 29th Division, who claimed publicly that when his landing craft was 100 yards from shore, the coxswain said he was going to lower the ramp and begin offloading, and only continued on to shore after another sergeant in the craft held a gun to the coxswain's head and ordered the coxswain to go in further.


  • Duty, Honor, Country: A History of West Pointmarker (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1966)
  • Eisenhower and Berlin, 1945: The Decision to Halt at the Elbe (New York: W.W. Norton, 1967)
  • The Supreme Commander: the War Years of General Dwight D. Eisenhower (New York: Doubleday, 1970)
  • Crazy Horse and Custer: The Parallel Lives of Two American Warriors (New York: Doubleday, 1975)
  • Ike's Spies: Eisenhower and the Espionage Establishment (New York: Doubleday, 1981)
  • Eisenhower (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1984)
  • Pegasus Bridgemarker: June 6, 1944 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1985)
  • Nixon (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991)
  • Band of Brothers, E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne: From Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992
  • Upton and the Army. Louisiana State University Press. 1993. ISBN 978-0-8071-1850-4
  • D-Day, June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II (New York, Simon & Schuster, 1994)
  • Halleck: Lincoln's Chief of Staff Louisiana State University Press. 1996. ISBN 978-0-8071-2071-2
  • Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996)
  • Citizen Soldiers: The U.S. Army from the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany, June 7, 1944 - May 7, 1945 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997)
  • Rise to Globalism: American Foreign Policy since 1938 (New York: Penguin Books, 1997)
  • Americans at War (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1997)
  • The Victors: Eisenhower and his Boys - The Men of World War II (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998)
  • An epic American exploration: the friendship of Lewis and Clark by Stephen E. Ambrose. The James Ford Bell Lecture, no. 36. [Minneapolis]: Associates of the James Ford Bell Library, 1998.
  • Comrades: Brothers, Fathers, Heroes, Sons, Pals (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999)
  • Nothing Like it in the World: The Men who Built the Transcontinental Railroad, 1863-1869 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000)
  • The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys who Flew the B-24s over Germany (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001)
  • To America: Personal Reflections of an Historian (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002)


  1. An Open Letter to the Airborne Community January 17, 2003
  2. Trigger Time website Hosted by Mark Bando, a published historian of the 101st Airborne in World War II
  3. As Historian's Fame Grows, So Does Attention to Sources January 11, 2002
  5. PBS News Hour discussion of Plagiarism by historians
  6. How the Ambrose Story Developed June 2002
  7. Ambrose Problems Date Back To Ph.D. Thesis May 10, 2002
  8. Stephen E. Ambrose WWII Sins 2001
  9. C-SPAN recording of Sgt Slaughter at the Eisenhower Center, New Orleans, May 1994

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