At the University of Wisconsin in the 1950s, Stephen Ambrose played football as a Badger for three years. He was a left guard on offense and a middle linebacker on defense, and had he been just 10 pounds heavier, he would have taken a shot at the pros. Instead, his life took an entirely different course.
Soon after completing both his undergraduate and graduate studies at the University of Wisconsin (which earned him a Ph.D. in history), Stephen Ambrose, a native of Illinois, had his first book published. A biography of Army General Henry W. Halleck, it was published by Louisiana State University Press in 1962 with a first printing of fewer than 1,000 copies. At least one copy must have been purchased, as he received a phone call from a fan, President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower had read Halleck: Lincoln's Chief of Staff, and was impressed. The Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe during World War II, and the two-term president of the United States offered Ambrose (then age twenty-eight) an opportunity to assist in the editing of his papers, and ultimately, to write an authorized biography of the president. Needless to say he accepted the assignment. It was this event that would shape his career as a writer.
Ambrose's first biography of President Eisenhower, The Supreme Commander: The War Years of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, appeared in 1970, the same year he became a full professor at the University of New Orleans. He would go on to write three more biographies of Eisenhower, all of which met with widespread acclaim.
After publishing the series of books on Eisenhower, the subject of his next series of biographies was suggested to Ambrose by his editor, Alice E. Mayhew. Ambrose did not have the same relationship with Richard Nixon as he did with Eisenhower, but he was challenged by the writing project Ms. Mayhew put before him. In 1987, Nixon, The Education of a Politician was published. Although he admits to never liking President Nixon, after writing two more books on this president, he grew to admire and respect him. In fact, Ambrose didn't even meet President Nixon until after the series was in print. This series of books, too, were celebrated with critical acclaim.
Ambrose's desire to write on Lewis and Clark began in the mid 1970s. In the summer of 1976, to celebrate the bicentennial of the United States, Stephen Ambrose, his wife and their five children, traveled the Lemhi Pass in the Rocky Mountains, where Meriwether Lewis was the first nonnative American to cross the Continental Divide in August 1805. On this trip, Stephen and his wife took turns reading to their children from the diaries of Lewis and Clark. Being so moved by this uniquely American experience, his family has repeated it every summer since -- visiting Montana, Idaho, Oregon, Kansas, or the Dakotas, and following some piece of the trail. The family has canoed more than 165 miles down the Missouri, backpacked and horse- backed along the Lolo Trail, and turned in at night at various Lewis and Clark campsites. After the publication of D-Day: June 6, 1944, Ambrose began to focus all of his attention of what would become Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West.
Stephen Ambrose, now a retired professor from the University of New Orleans, lives in the Old South community of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, in his home, Merry Weather. He also maintains a home in Helena, Montana, along the trail of Lewis and Clark.
OTHER WORKS BY STEPHEN E. AMBROSE:
- Halleck: Lincoln's Chief of Staff
From the bestselling author of Band of Brothers
, the definitive book on Lewis and Clarks exploration of the Louisiana Purchase, the most momentous expedition in American history and one of the great adventure stories of all time.
In 1803 President Thomas Jefferson selected his personal secretary, Captain Meriwether Lewis, to lead a voyage up the Missouri River to the Rockies, over the mountains, down the Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean, and back. Lewis and his partner, Captain William Clark, made the first map of the trans-Mississippi West, provided invaluable scientific data on the flora and fauna of the Louisiana Purchase territory, and established the American claim to Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.
Ambrose has pieced together previously unknown information about weather, terrain, and medical knowledge at the time to provide a vivid backdrop for the expedition. Lewis is supported by a rich variety of colorful characters, first of all Jefferson himself, whose interest in exploring and acquiring the American West went back thirty years. Next comes Clark, a rugged frontiersman whose love for Lewis matched Jeffersons. There are numerous Indian chiefs, and Sacagawea, the Indian girl who accompanied the expedition, along with the French-Indian hunter Drouillard, the great naturalists of Philadelphia, the French and Spanish fur traders of St. Louis, John Quincy Adams, and many more leading political, scientific, and military figures of the turn of the century.
High adventure, high politics, suspense, drama, and diplomacy combine with high romance and personal tragedy to make this outstanding work of scholarship as readable as a novel.