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COMRADES by Stephen E. Ambrose

COMRADES

Brothers, Fathers, Heroes, Sons, Pals

By Stephen E. Ambrose

Pub Date: June 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-684-86718-4
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

A disappointingly sentimental celebration of male friendship that reveals almost nothing about the emotional lives of men. Bestselling historian Ambrose (Undaunted Courage, 1996, etc.) is a brilliant chronicler of public events, but his exploration of male friendship is exasperatingly shallow. How do young men become friends, according to Ambrose? They might “join the same fraternity, date the same or similar girls from the same sorority, play on the same [sports] teams, all things that lead to genuine connection.” As a University of Wisconsin freshman, Ambrose befriends a fraternity brother because “[w]e liked beer, we liked to sing when drunk, we liked girls” and enjoyed the outdoors. This hardly exhausts the infinite variety of male friendship. Ambrose portrays men as “comrades” in the public arena of sports, politics, and combat, but says little about the private roles men typically play—as nurturing fathers, perhaps, or supportive husbands. In Ambrose’s estimation, men bond by sharing a goal. The friendships Ambrose has chosen to celebrate are largely forged in wartime: soldiers hitting the beaches on D-Day, George Armstrong Custer and his brother Tom dying together at Little Big Horn, Crazy Horse and his warrior friend He Dog slaughtering Custer’s men, Dwight Eisenhower and George Patton working side by side to destroy the Nazi war machine. Ambrose recycles a lot of material from his previous books and throws in a few anecdotes about his own lifelong friendships. None of it plunges much below surface platitudes. We learn, for example, that Patton and Eisenhower “both had a deep interest in tanks and armored warfare.” But where are the men who simply enjoy each other’s company? A vaguely nostalgic and disorganized exploration meant, no doubt, as a Father’s Day gift book. Not Ambrose’s finest hour.