'Band of Brothers' author Stephen Ambrose accused of faking Eisenhower interviews

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Was one of America's most revered popular historians fabricating his own material? That's the explosive charge now levied at Stephen Ambrose, author of numerous bestselling military and presidential histories. The author of "D-Day" and "Band of Brothers" died in 2002, but several authorities have recently questioned the writer's accounts of his research for "Supreme Commander," a massive two-volume biography of Dwight D. Eisenhower. At a minimum, Ambrose's critics say, he had vastly exaggerated the amount of time he spent interviewing the former president; and at worst, they suggest, he simply made up long stretches of the book.

The U.K. Guardian reported over the weekend that it appears unlikely that Ambrose spent "hundreds and hundreds" of hours conducting interviews and research with Eisenhower's guidance as he worked on the project between 1964 and 1969, the year Eisenhower died. "I think five hours is a generous estimation of the actual time they spent together," Tim Rives, deputy director of the Eisenhower Presidential Library, told the British paper. "I personally would push it back to less than two or three."

Rives discovered the discrepancy as the Eisenhower library was preparing to mount an exhibition on Ambrose's relationship with Eisenhower. First there was a letter from Ambrose — then a professor at Johns Hopkins University — that requested an interview with Eisenhower for a biography, a petition that contradicts Ambrose's frequent claim that Eisenhower's former executive assistant had contacted Ambrose to pen the president's life story after the assistant had read one of Ambrose's Civil War histories. Digging further, Rives found that seven interview sessions cited in the footnotes of "Supreme Commander" could not have occurred — he says Eisenhower was either meeting with other people at the times indicated or actually travelling to another part of the country. "The whole story just kind of unraveled from there," Rives told the Guardian.

The fallout from Rives' discovery won't likely be confined to the "Supreme Commander." As Richard Rayner notes in the New Yorker, more than half of the books in Ambrose's 32-title roster of publications deal with Eisenhower-related material.

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Donald Wolberg - 4/28/2010

For whatever reason, the depth of either bad judgement, exaggeration or complete falsehood, seems to follow the Ambrose story. The seriousness of the charges, sadly unanswered, place the body of work with the Ambrose name in grave doubt. The danger is that all of the work will be so closely examined and questioned that it will disappear from shelves. Why Ambrose could not understand that this would be the result, is as difficult to understand as finding a rational reasonfor him to go down that road in the first place. The "overflow" effect will also result in very close scrutiny of the work of other historical populaizers, and one worries what will be found lurking there.