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Sunday, January 10, 2016

The 'bite-sized,' tasty approach

“My favorite book is the last one printed, which is always better than those that were published earlier.” – Stephen Ambrose

Born on this date in 1936, Ambrose was somewhat controversial in his writings of history, choosing to present his work in “popular” style so that it would be attract more readers.  “You don’t hate history,” he once said.  “What you hate is how it’s been taught to you.” 

Thus, this American historian and biographer wrote in a style that focused on how ordinary readers would best like to see it -- not necessarily "scholarly," but "palatable.”  It worked.  A longtime professor of history at the University of New Orleans, he authored many best selling volumes of American popular history.    At the time of his death (in 2002), the New York Times 
"an important lay audience without endorsing its every prejudice or sacrificing 
the profession's standards of scholarship.”

In addition to his dozens of books and hundreds of articles, Ambrose championed (and often funded) efforts to collect oral histories – particularly from veterans of both World War II and the Korean War.  He utilized many of those histories in his own writing and also consulted on such major film efforts as “The World At War,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “Band of Brothers,” and “Lewis and Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery.”

In recognition of his efforts, the Rutgers University Living History Society awards the annual Stephen E. Ambrose Oral History Award to "an author or artist who has made significant use of oral history." Past winners include Tom Brokaw, Steven Spielberg, Studs Terkel, Michael Beschloss, and Ken Burns, all of who benefitted from Ambrose’s writing.

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