The Supreme Commander: The War Years of General Dwight D. Eisenhower

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Univ. Press of Mississippi, 1970 - Biography & Autobiography - 732 pages
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In North Africa, on the beaches at Normandy, and in the Battle of the Bulge, Dwight David Eisenhower proved himself as one of the world's greatest military leaders. Faced with conciliating or disagreeing with such stormy figures as Churchill, Roosevelt, and DeGaulle, and generals like Montgomery and Patton, General Eisenhower showed himself to be as skillful a diplomat as he was a strategist.

Stephen E. Ambrose, associate editor of the General's official papers, analyzes his subject's decisions in The Supreme Commander, which Doubleday first published in 1970. Throughout the book Ambrose traces the steady development of Eisenhower's generalcy--from its dramatic beginnings through his time at the top post of Allied command.

The New York Times Book Review said of The Supreme Commander, "It is Mr. Ambrose's special triumph that he has been able to fight through the memoranda, the directives, plans, reports, and official self-serving pieties of the World War II establishment to uncover the idiosyncratic people at its center. ... General Dwight Eisenhower comes remarkably alive. ...[Ambrose's] angle of sight is so fresh and lively that one reads as if one did not know what was coming next. It is better than that: One does know what's coming next--not only the winning of a war but the making of a general--but the interest is in seeing how."

This study of Eisenhower's role in the world's biggest war is absorbing as reading and invaluable as a reference.

Stephen E. Ambrose was Director Emeritus of the Eisenhower Center, Boyd Professor of History at the University of New Orleans, and president of the National D- Day Museum. He was the author of many books, most recently The Mississippi and the Making of a Nation: From the Louisana Purchase to Today. His compilation of 1,400 oral histories from American veterans and authorship of over 20 books established him as one of the foremost historians of the Second World War in Europe. He died October 13, 2002, in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.

 

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This was a hefty book I put off for a long time due to its size. I thought 670 pages had to be excessive as a biography of only one person over a period of only 4 years. It was. This was much more than merely a biography. This was an excellent birds-eye view of the entire portion of WWII during American involvement in North Africa, the Mediterranean, and Europe. It was a very good and often surprising account of the war.
Although I enjoy war books that include perspectives of the soldiers in the line, too narrow a focus leaves out the context. Likewise, leaving out the experience of the people doing the fighting, the killing, the bleeding and the dying gives a less-than-complete story. Of course, at the end of the day, no single book--no number of books no matter how large--will transmit the totality of the thing. Still, the very best, I feel, transition from command to front-line and back. I think Rick Atkinson's Army at Dawn and Day of Battle are the best balanced I've read.
So this one did give a great view of the war, but it was very much, even sometimes disturbingly, separated and isolated from the horror and suffering of those giving their lives to execute the decisions made at AFHQ and SHAEF. It was often chilling but, I think, realistic, to see the depersonalized processes of directing war at high levels; the disconnect between that and the intimacy of the act of taking a man's life face-to-face was a real and unvarnished aspect of this account of war.
Ambrose was an advocate for Eisenhower throughout, but of course all biographers tend to err on the side of serving the subject as their "relationship" with their subject develops through their writing and research. Ambrose's bias is not bold or blind--he does acknowledge mistakes and counter-arguments--but it is at least visible enough that the reader does not have to wonder and guess at how the author's bias is entering his work. It's better that way sometimes, so that you can account for the bias rather than having to wonder.
All in all this was a very worthwhile read despite its length, and its length contributed to a very satisfying feeling at having finished it. I average about 3 to 7 days for a typical nonfiction war book 300-500 pages. This one took me 14 days exactly.
Overall, this was excellent, but not among the very very best.
 

Contents

WASHINGTON TO LONDON
3
ESTABLISHING THE ORGANIZATION
20
THE THEATER COMMANDER
54
THE BLACKEST DAY IN HISTORY
64
OPENING THE MEDITERRANEAN
149
KASSERINE PASS
166
July 1943December 1943
235
THE ITALIAN SURRENDER NEGOTIATIONS
251
PROBLEMS
377
THE INVASION
411
STALEMATE
425
STRUCTURE
492
September 1944December 1944
503
SINGLE THRUST VS BROAD FRONT
527
GAULLE AND BROOKE
571
THE LAST CAMPAIGN
605

OVERLORD
319
THE PREPARATION
329
THE ANVIL DEBATE
349
CROSSING THE RHINE AND A CHANGE IN PLAN
618
GLOSSARY
669
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About the author (1970)

Historian Stephen E. Ambrose grew up in Wisconsin and attended the University of Wisconsin and the University of Louisiana. Ambrose is considered to be one of the foremost historical scholars of recent times and has been a professor for over three decades. He is also the founder and president of the National D-Day Museum in New Orleans. His works include D-Day: June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II, Citizen Soldiers: The U. S. Army from Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany, June 7, 1944-May 7, 1945, Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest and Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson and the Opening of the American West. Abrose served historical consultant on the motion picture Saving Private Ryan.

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