Historian Steven Ambrose Dead at 66

National Geographic News
October 15, 2002

Stephen E. Ambrose, one of a handful of historians who have become best-selling authors, died of lung cancer Sunday, October 13th in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.

Perhaps best known for his books on Lewis and Clark and World War II, Ambrose also founded the National D-Day Museum and the Eisenhower Center for American Studies at the University of New Orleans. During his career, much of which he spent as a professor at the University of New Orleans, he wrote or edited more than 35 books.

Ambrose was an Explorer-in-Residence for the National Geographic Society. For him, teaching and writing were two sides of the same coin.

"In each case I am telling a story—I think of myself as sitting around the campfire after a day on the trail, telling stories that I hope will have the members of the audience, or the readers, leaning forward just a bit, wanting to know what happens next."

Ambrose is remembered by his friends as a man who lived his life to the fullest. He didn't conduct his research solely from the library. When writing his book on D-Day, he visited the shores of Normandy; for his book on the air war over Germany, he flew in B-24 bombers; for his book on the explorations of Lewis and Clark, he followed their trail.

To write his most recent book, The Mississippi and the Making of a Nation, which was published last week, he traveled the length of the river.

Popularizing American History

Ambrose probably described himself best, saying "I am an unabashed triumphalist. I believe this is the best and greatest country that ever was."

In the early 1980s, he established Eisenhower Center for American Studies at the University of New Orleans, and embarked on a task that would prove seminal to his work, collecting thousands of oral and written histories from World War II veterans. One of his proudest achievements was the founding of the National D-Day Museum, which opened in 2000. Today it is one of New Orleans' main tourist destinations.

In addition to writing multi-volume biographies of Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard M. Nixon, he wrote about such diverse topics as the building of the transcontinental railroad (Nothing Like It in the World), the Civil War (Halleck: Lincoln's Chief of Staff), and the Indian wars of the American West (Crazy Horse and Custer: The Parallel Lives of Two American Warriors).

His book on the explorations of the west by Lewis and Clark, Undaunted Courage, catapulted him to national fame.

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