After moaning my way through the equally large 'D-Day' by Mr. Ambrose, I thought I would give him one last shot, and to that end I secured myself a copy of 'Citizen Soldiers'.
Firstly, allow me to say that Stephen Ambrose is not an historian in the proper sense. There is a significant difference between relating easily-located historical facts, and unearthing them for oneself. Ambrose is one who condenses unwieldy masses of fact into a single digestible volume, which is what college students do with every essay, and which television news producers do nightly at six.
The difference between Ambrose and a college student or news producer is his entertaining writing style. His is truly "mass history", history for the masses, writing which passes easily through the eyes and into the brain, where it roams around for a while before being discarded. It's good enough stuff for a long flight or a soak in the bath, but nothing you'd sit down for any length of time and puzzle over, or elaborately annotate, or extract notes from. His books have always struck me as 'Military History For Dummies', which is an important enough thing, as it's good to make such important information easily accessible to the uneducated public.
What irritates me about Ambrose, though, is his irrational and unmitigated biais towards all things American. Drawing only on the books of Ambrose one would imagine that America was not only the only allied force to fight in World War II, but is in fact the only nation on earth. He regularly goes out of his way to dismiss or degrade the efforts of other allied forces, specifically those of Britain and its Commonwealth. And I really do mean it when I say "goes out of his way", for rarely are these frankly insulting remarks attached to any logical argument that has been laid down beforehand - they're just randomly dropped in there. He is well known as a Brit basher, and 'Citizen Soldiers' and 'D-Day' serve only to reinforce and then enhance this reputation.
Further to all that, I have a hard time in attaching any relevance to his frequent comments regarding the American Civil War, Little Big Horn, the Alamo, and any number of nationally-contained American conflicts. He just waffles on and on about those things, and the only reason for it seems to be to encourage readers to buy his other books on those subjects.
In all, it's hard to recommend Ambrose to anybody but an historical imbecile, or a virgin WW2 reader. His national prejudice is uncontrolled and it is equally shocking that no editor ever dared to rein him in regarding such matters. It's all very well and good and noble to be proud of your country, but not at the expense of others. In fact, it isn't out of line to apply a single unhappy word to Mr. Ambrose: racist. He is, pure and simple, an American supremacist. He is, to be perfectly plain, a racist and bigoted selective collator of information.
The next time you are confronted with a wall of Ambrose novels (I have difficulty in considering them as anything other) at the bookstore, you would do well to take a peek on either side, and see what grabs you.
As it stands, I shall be packing my Ambrose down to the book exchange later today, to swap them for something more refreshing and intelligent and less annoying. And as for yourself, take a dig around in Amazon's extensive WW2 history sections - there are countless numbers of smaller works of greater historical merit than all of Ambrose combined.