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Book Review: The Supreme Commander: The War Years of Dwight D. Eisenhower by Stephen E. Ambrose

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Historian Stephen E. Ambrose’s (1936 – 2002) The Supreme Commander: The War Years of Dwight D. Eisenhower was first published in 1970. In January of 2012, Anchor Books have reprinted the classic in paperback form. Although the story of General Dwight D. Eisenhower leading the U.S. to victory during World War II is a fascinating one, the book itself has been the subject of controversy for years.

Basically, the questions surrounding the book involve the dates that Ambrose cited for his interviews with Eisenhower. After Eisenhower’s death in 1969, Ambrose made claims as to having a close relationship with Eisenhower in the final years of his life.The biggest problem with the dates Ambrose cites in The Supreme Commander cannot be reconciled with Eisenhower’s personal schedule, though. The former President’s diary and telephone records show that the pair met only three times, for a total of less than five hours.

The reasons behind the seeming exaggeration of Ambrose’s relationship with Eisenhower can only be guessed at. Putting the controversy aside though, Ambrose’s presentation of the basic facts, and heroism of Dwight D. Eisenhower, remains impressive. One of the General’s most overlooked qualities was his skill as a diplomat during the War. Despite (or maybe because of) the huge stakes — there was a fair amount of egotism among Allied leaders that came into play. Eisenhower was a master of negotiating some of the stickier personnel problems, and keeping the endgame in sight.

No matter what your opinion of Ambrose is, and whether he did exaggerate the time he spent with Dwight D. Eisenhower or not, The Supreme Commander is a classic. Even Ambrose’s critics (reluctantly perhaps) admit that the amount of research he did, and his talent in bringing to life the events at hand make The Supreme Commander a “must” read for those interested in both World War II, and the career of General Dwight D. Eisenhower.

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