NEW YORK — He hardly mentions his fatal illness, and makes a brief, sarcastic reference to allegations of plagiarism that surfaced in the last year of his life.
Historian Stephen Ambrose’s “To America,” a book of “personal reflections” completed shortly before his death, is, essentially, a work of history.
“In this short volume, I tell stories about Americans from the past, what they did, how they did it, with what results,” writes Ambrose, who died Oct. 13 at age 66, less than six months after announcing he had lung cancer.
“To America” will be released on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, with a first printing of 275,000.
Ambrose, whose many best sellers included such World War II books as “Band of Brothers” and “D-Day,” saw his reputation repeatedly challenged earlier this year when reports emerged of passages that closely resembled the works of others.
“The Wild Blue,” “Nothing Like It in the World” and “Citizen Soldiers” were among several works found to contain questionable material. A revised edition of “The Wild Blue” came out last spring.
In “To America,” Ambrose refers to the controversy in a passage about his writing process. He confides that some of his best lines have come from his wife, Moira, and then comments, “I could give hundreds of examples, but if I did so my critics would accuse me of stealing her words (which I do).”
He goes on to list seven of his best sellers from over the past decade and states, “These are all substantial books with great chunks of footnotes, whether from memoirs, diaries, official histories, newspapers, archives.”
Footnotes, ironically, were at the heart of criticisms against him. Ambrose often defended himself by pointing out that he included footnotes, widely considered by historians as inadequate credit for material highly similar to its source.
Ambrose knew he might not live to see his book published, but waits until the end, in the “Acknowledgments” section, to discuss his illness.