A blend of memoir, canned book-talks, and synopses by the prolific historian.
Its title hints at something of a love letter to the country that has provided so much grist for his ever-turning mill, but this entry in the vast Ambrosian library is a breezy, self-congratulatory survey of the author’s career (The Wild Blue, 2001, etc.), summarizing both his bestsellers and lesser-known works. Along the way, Ambrose ventures offhand explanations of why history is suddenly a popular field of study (“At the beginning of the 21st century, our students know that they live in the richest and freest nation that ever was and they want to know how that happened”) while revisiting the origins of some of his books, such as the biography of Dwight D. Eisenhower that launched his career as a popular writer. (Ike picked Ambrose personally on the strength of his M.A. thesis on Civil War general Henry Wager Halleck, Lincoln’s chief of staff.) Ambrose’s tone is informal and unchallenging throughout: “I have written 2,155 pages on Dick Nixon. . . . Was it worth it? You are damned right”; “World War II continues to fascinate because it was so stupendous”; “the making of the bomb showed that there is almost nothing mankind cannot do.” His narrative wanders from weightless considerations of the national character (“It seems to me that perhaps our greatest strength is that American kids are brought up to know right from wrong”) to cursory assessments of the relative merits of leaders such as Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, Ulysses S. Grant, and, of course, Eisenhower, for whom Ambrose has much praise. Nixon, however, is another matter, and the author’s account of an unpleasant encounter with the president and the effects thereof on his professorial career is one of the few high points here.
Useful enough to Ambrose’s many diehard fans. General readers will find this hurried collection less than compelling.