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Thursday, January 10, 2019

Not money, just history

“Writing is not the easiest way to make a living. You work long hours, usually all by yourself.  It is not a way to make money.” – Stephen Ambrose

Born in Illinois on this date in 1938, Ambrose was one of the 20th Century’s giants in both the teaching of history – which he famously said “is everything that has ever happened” – and his popular writing about history. 

A graduate of the University of Wisconsin, where he originally aspired to a career in medicine, he turned to history instead after hearing the first lecture in a U.S. history class entitled "Representative Americans" from William B. Hesseltine.  Ambrose credited Hesseltine with fundamentally shaping his writing and igniting his interest in the field.

A distinguished professor of history for 30 years, Ambrose wrote what arguably are among the most popular history books – many also made into movie or television series.  Among them were Crazy Horse and Custer: Band of Brothers (about the U.S. Army’s famed Easy Company); and D-Day, June 6, 1944 (all 3 with much longer “formal” titles).   His most popular single work was Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West, which stayed on the New York Times best seller list for 126 weeks.  

In addition to 27 self-authored books, Ambrose co-authored, edited, and contributed to many more.  He also was a frequent contributor to magazines such as American Heritage right up until his death in 2002, continuing his impact as a “writer of popular history.”  U.S Senator and Presidential candidate George McGovern, the primary focus of Ambrose's book Wild Blue said, "He probably reached more readers than any other historian in our national history."

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