With its 15 essays (eight previously unpublished, the remaining published in various journals over the course of 30 years), this is a precis of a brilliant career. Reflecting such works as Crazy Horse and Custer, D-Day, Undaunted Courage and Eisenhower and Berlin, 1945, these essays show Ambrose as a wide-ranging writer and a historian who does his best to understand the soldiers he studies, whether through thousands of interviews or through a swim in the choppy June waters off Normandy. After the first, longest and most strictly tactical piece on Vicksburg, he moves more or less chronologically to the 21st century and the future of war. He offers three profiles, not of the men he admires most, but of three histrionic egotists--Custer, MacArthur and Patton--with complicated personal and martial legacies. Ambrose doesn't shy away from the most controversial subjects, but rather marshals fact and feeling in convincing argument. Take ""The Atomic Bomb and Its Consequences,"" in which he contends that the atomic bomb may have saved Japanese lives by allowing the country's military leaders a face-saving way to get out of a war long lost. Without the bomb and the surrender, Japan would have been subjected to extensive conventional bombardment, and, Ambrose reminds us, the March 1945 raid on Tokyo caused more casualties than did the atomic bombs. His discussion of My Lai never gives the specifics of the 1968 massacre. But in a long accounting of Meriwether Lewis's ongoing minor skirmishes with Native Americans, Wounded Knee and other incidents, he puts My Lai into a context of terror, anger and lost control. ""My Lai,"" he says, ""was not an exception or an aberration. Atrocity is a part of war that needs to be recognized and discussed."" (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 09/29/1997 Release date: 10/01/1997 Genre: Nonfiction
During the Covid-19 crisis, Publishers Weekly is providing free digital access to our magazine, archive, and website. To receive the access to the latest issue delivered to your inbox free each week, enter your email below.