Stephen Edward Ambrose was born to a family physician named Stephen Hedges Ambrose and his wife Rosepha in Decatur, Illinois on January 10, 1936. He grew up in Whitewater, Walworth County, Wisconsin and graduated from Whitewater High School. He received his B.S. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1957 and earned his Ph.D. in history in 1963 (his focus up to that point had been the US Civil War). While at UWM, he met fellow student Judith Dorlester (who was at UWM on a Ford Foundation scholarship) and they married in 1957. Their romance was given front-cover billing in the June, 1957 Ladies Home Journal! The couple had two children: Stephenie and Barry Halleck. Judith died in 1966, and Ambrose married Moira Buckley a year later, in 1967. He adopted Moira's three children from a previous marriage: Andrew, Grace, and Hugh.
Ambrose served as a professor of history at several universities from 1960 until his retirement in 1995, spending the bulk of his time at the University of New Orleans. (In 1970, he was driven from his position at Kansas State University after heckling then-President Richard Nixon during a speech on campus!)
Ambrose's earliest book, Halleck: Lincoln's Chief of Staff, was printed in 1962 while he was still in college. Less than 1,000 were printed, but one of those found its way to President Eisenhower. The President liked the book, and asked Ambrose to edit his papers and write his biography in 1963. The resulting Eisenhower biographies are generally enthusiastic, but also contain many criticisms of the former commander-in-chief. He later wrote a highly regarded three-volume biography of Richard Nixon, which is also generally positive. Having unrestricted access to Eisenhower's WWII papers (along with the mentoring of WWII historian Forrest Pogue) caused Ambrose to shift his focus to the history of the Second World War. He went on to write numerous best-selling books about the war, including D-Day, Citizen Soldiers, and The Victors. He was also military advisor on the movie Saving Private Ryan and was an executive producer on the television mini-series that was based on his work, Band of Brothers.
Although it was his WWII books which catapulted him out of the ranks of academic history and into best-sellerdom, Mr. Ambrose did not limit himself to WWII history. For instance, over a period of several years during the 1970s, he and his family hiked the entire Lewis & Clark trail (one stage at a time). Those trips, during which Steve read Lewis's actual journal for each site as they camped, were the basis for Undaunted Courage. He also wrote Nothing Like it in the World, a book which includes a mix of stories about Civil War veterans, Chinese and Irish workers who built the Transcontinental Railroad, and Crazy Horse and Custer.
Mr. Ambrose has been accused of plagiarism, and criticized for inaccuracies in his writings and for shoddy or missing research, particularly because he was a writer of "popular" or "best-seller" history. Some of his later works, gripping as they are, do not bear proper academic scrutiny, and other than in a dramatic context they must be approached with caution. But during the 1970s and 1980s, certainly, his academic reputation was impeccable. He was the historian, for example, chosen by the BBC to provide the on-film analysis and commentary on its landmark 26-episode TV documentary series "The World At War."
A heavy smoker for years, Stephen Ambrose died of lung cancer on October 13, 2002 and was interred in the Garden of Memory Cemetery, in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. He is survived by his wife and five children.
- Nothing Like it in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869 (2000)
- Comrades: Brothers, Fathers, Heroes, Sons, Pals (1999)
- The Victors: Eisenhower and His Boys, The Men of World War II (1998)
- Americans at War (1997)
- Rise to Globalism: American Foreign Policy (1938-1997) (1997)
- Citizen Soldiers: The U.S. Army from the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany, June 7, 1944-May 7, 1945 (1997)
- The American Heritage New History of World War II (1997)
- Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Owning of the American West (1996)
- Handbook on German Military Forces (1995)
- D-Day June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II (1994)
- Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne From Normandy to Hitler's Eagles Nest (1992)
- Eisenhower and the German POWs: Facts Against Falsehood (1992)
- Nixon: The Ruin and Recovery of a Politician (1991)
- Eisenhower: Soldier and President (1990)
- Nixon: The Triumph of a Politician, 1962-1972 (1989)
- Nixon: The Education of a Politician, 1913-1962 (1987)
- Pegasus Bridge: June 6, 1944 (1985)
- Eisenhower: The President (1985)
- Eisenhower: Soldier, General of the Army, President—Elect, 1890-1950 (1984)
- Ike's Spies: Eisenhower and the Espionage Establishment (1981)
- Crazy Horse and Custer: The Parallel Lives of Two American Warriors (1975)
- General Ike: Abilene to Berlin (1973)
- Rise to Globalism (1971)
- The Supreme Commander: The War Years of General Dwight D. Eisenhower (1970)
- The Papers of Dwight D. Eisenhower: The War Years (5 vols. 1970)
- Institutions in Modern America (1967)
- Eisenhower and Berlin 1945: The Decision to Halt at the Elbe (1967)
- Duty, Honor, Country: A History of West Point (1966)
- Upton and the Army (1964)
- Halleck, Lincoln's Chief of Staff (1962)
- Wisconsin Boy in Dixie (1961)
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