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If you like Stephen Ambrose's story, you might also like:
Tom Clancy,
David Herbert Donald,
Doris Kearns Goodwin,
Shelby Foote,
David McCullough
and James Michener

Stephen Ambrose's recommended reading: R.E. Lee, A Biography

Stephen Ambrose also appears in the video:
The Power of Words

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Stephen Ambrose in the Achievement Curriculum section:
The Power of Words

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Stephen Ambrose
Stephen Ambrose
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Stephen Ambrose Interview (page: 6 / 7)

Biographer and Historian

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  Stephen Ambrose

You've talked about Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and their friendship, and how much can be accomplished as a team. It's an interesting paradox. You're sitting there alone, writing about teamwork, but your work is really not teamwork.

Stephen Ambrose: That's right. I'm not a team player. I don't team teach. When I'm teaching, I do the teaching. When I'm writing, I do the writing. I've never co-authored a book. I don't know how people could do such a thing. But I'm writing about other people. I've had team experiences. I played football in high school and in college, I do a fair amount of hunting, and hunting has got a lot of teamwork in it. So it's not completely foreign to me. But no, I'm not a military man, and that's where you see teamwork most often and most effectively. That was the case with Lewis and Clark, and it was the case with Dwight Eisenhower, who are my greatest heroes. These guys knew how to put a team together and how to make it work. I'm a student of teamwork, but I'm not a participant or a player.

Talk a little bit about the passion that you developed for the story of Lewis and Clark, and their team.

Stephen Ambrose: My interest in Lewis and Clark began with reading their journals, which my Aunt Lois had given to me in the summer of 1975. And I'm embarrassed to say that I had a Ph.D. in American history and had been teaching American history for -- by that time -- 20 years, and I'd never read the journals of Lewis and Clark. Well I read 'em, and I was enthralled from paragraph two on. And at Christmas dinner, sitting around the table with the kids, after the turkey and all the rest, 1975, the question came up: "What are we going to do to celebrate our nation's 200th birthday?" I mean, it's something that mattered to everybody of course, but I'm an American historian and had a special interest in -- I wanted to do something really special. And it just popped out of me, "I want to be on Lemhi Pass." That's the Continental Divide, the border between Idaho and Montana where Meriwether Lewis became the first American to step over into that great northwestern empire of Idaho, Oregon and Washington. "That's where I want to be on the 4th of July." And the kids loved the idea, and Moira loved the idea, and I invited students to come along, and about 25 of them did, and we pulled it off. We were there for the 4th of July 1976, and it was the most glorious wonderful night. Clearest sky. You could reach up and touch the stars. We climbed out of the pass to the top of the mountain, sang patriotic songs, not so easy to do in 1976. I mean, these students were -- Nixon had just resigned, Saigon had fallen, cynicism was the order of the day. But in that setting it worked very nicely.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

I wanted to follow Lewis and Clark. I mean, having read those journals, I wanted to see what they had experienced. I wanted to camp at their camp sites. And we had always taken the kids out for summer camps. I'd done a book on Crazy Horse and Custer; that had led us to camping in the Black Hills and in Montana, as a family, and we just took it for granted we would spend our summers camping. And I had to have some way of tax deducting the expenses, I couldn't afford it otherwise. So I had to be ready to stand up in front of the tax judge if the deduction was challenged, and say, "Your Honor, I'm really writing a book about Lewis and Clark, and some day I'm going to make some money off of it, and I'm going to pay taxes on that money, so it's a legitimate tax deduction." So -- and I must say, in the end, given what happened with the success of the book, I paid one hell of a lot more in taxes than I ever deducted back in the '70s on that book.

You've talked about how their story shows us that America is the land of opportunity. Could you tell us what the American Dream means to you.?

Stephen Ambrose: The American Dream means, to me, that you can go as far as your abilities and your energy can carry you, and you're not going to have any artificial barriers put up. This isn't Europe. You are not stuck in serfdom. You are not stuck with your class. You are able to go as far as you want to go, if you're ready to work hard enough, and you've got the ability to do it.

One of my favorite lines was given to Dwight Eisenhower by his father, who by any standard was not a great success in life. He raised five boys successfully in Abilene, but David Eisenhower never had an extra $10 bill in his pocket in his life. He was very ashamed when he died, that he had no estate to hand on to his children. There was nothing there, and yet he gave them a priceless heritage of course, and a big part of that was this advice that he gave to his son Dwight, and to his other sons, all of whom were also very successful in their own fields. And that advice was, "America is the land of opportunity, reach out and seize it." And it still is, and pray God always will be. So long as this republic lasts, it will be.

[ Key to Success ] The American Dream

Your wife helps you edit your books, I understand.

Stephen Ambrose Interview Photo
Stephen Ambrose: I was smart enough to marry an English lit major who has a great ear. At the end of a day of writing, she has to sit down and listen, and I read what I wrote that day. It helps me enormously to read it aloud, and, and I can't read it aloud if I'm the only one in the room. I've got to have an audience, and she's the audience. She's very, very good. She has a sense of the right word, and she will stop me in the middle of a sentence and change a word. Not terribly often the verb, I usually get my verbs right, but very often the adjective, or frequently enough the noun, and it's a great help to me. And then I love it when I'm doing a piece of reading and she's in the audience, and I come to a word that she has changed, or a sentence that she has changed. I'll catch her eye, and it's a nice moment. I've tried on a couple of books to get her name in as co-author, and Alice won't let me.

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This page last revised on Sep 22, 2010 11:44 EDT
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