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Stephen Ambrose, Nixon Biographer, Dies, 66

Stephen Ambrose, the man who authored a three-volume biography of Richard Nixon, has died, aged 66.

Ambrose once said that he was a historian who was “fascinated by leadership”.

A report in the New York Times says:

Stephen E. Ambrose, the military historian and biographer whose books recounting the combat feats of American soldiers and airmen fueled a national fascination with the generation that fought World War II, died yesterday at a hospital in Bay St. Louis, Miss. Mr. Ambrose, who lived in Bay St. Louis and Helena, Mont., was 66.

The cause was lung cancer, which was diagnosed last April, his son Barry said.

“Until I was 60 years old, I lived on a professor’s salary and I wrote books,” Mr. Ambrose recalled in November 1999. “We did all right. We even managed to buy some mutual funds for our grandchildren. I never in this world expected what happened.”

Mr. Ambrose, known previously for multivolume biographies of Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard M. Nixon, emerged as a best-selling author during the past decade. He was also an adviser for films depicting heroic exploits, a highly paid lecturer and an organizer of tours to historic sites.

His ascension to wealth and fame began with his book “D-Day, June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II,” marking the 50th anniversary of the Normandy invasion. Drawing upon combat veterans’ remembrances collected by the Eisenhower Center in New Orleans, which Mr. Ambrose founded, it became a best seller.

..Soon Mr. Ambrose was producing at least a book a year and becoming a star at Simon & Schuster, which published all his best-known books.

But earlier this year Mr. Ambrose was accused of ethical lapses for having employed some narrative passages in his books that closely paralleled previously published accounts. The criticism came at a time of heightened scrutiny of scholarly integrity…

…Mr. Ambrose said that his copying from other writers’ works represented only a few pages among the thousands he had written and that he had identified the sources by providing footnotes. He did concede that he should have placed quotation marks around such material and said he would do so in future editions. He denied engaging in plagiarism and suggested that jealousy among academic historians played a part in the criticism.

“Any book with more than five readers is automatically popularized and to be scorned,” Mr. Ambrose said in an interview with The Los Angeles Times in April 2002. “I did my graduate work like anybody else, and I kind of had that attitude myself. The problem with my colleagues is they never grew out of it.”

Two years after his D-Day book was published, Mr. Ambrose had another best seller, “Undaunted Courage,” the story of Lewis and Clark’s exploration of the West. He reported having earned more than $4 million from it.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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