Summary and book reviews of Citizen Soldiers by Stephen Ambrose

Citizen Soldiers

The U.S. Army from the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany. June 7, 1944 to May 7, 1945

by Stephen Ambrose

Citizen Soldiers
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  • First Published:
    Oct 1997, 512 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 1999, 255 pages

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Book Summary

Once again, Stephen E. Ambrose shows that free men fight better than slaves, that the sons of democracy proved to be better soldiers than the sons of Nazi Germany.

From the  special advisor on Saving Private Ryan and the bestselling author of Undaunted Courage and D-Day, the definitive book on the most important day of World War II, comes the inspiring story of the ordinary men of the U.S. Army in northwest Europe from the day after D-Day until the end of the bitterest days of the war.

Citizen Soldiers opens at 0001 hours, June 7, 1944, on the Normandy beaches, and ends at 0245 hours, May 7, 1945. In between come the battles in the hedgerows of Normandy, the breakout at St.-Lô, the Falaise Gap, Patton tearing through France, the liberation of Paris, the attempt to leap the Rhine in Operation Market-Garden, the near-miraculous German recovery, the battles around Metz and in the Hurtgen Forest, the Battle of the Bulge -- the biggest battle in the history of the U.S. Army -- the capture of the bridge at Remagen, and finally the overrunning of Germany.

From the high command (including Eisenhower, Bradley. and Patton) on down to the enlisted men, Stephen E. Ambrose draws on hundreds of interviews and oral histories from men on both sides who were there. Ambrose once again recreates the experiences of the individuals who fought the battles. The women who served as nurses, secretaries, clerks, code-breakers, and flyers are part of the narrative, as are the Germans who fought against us. Within the chronological story, there are chapters on medics, nurses, and doctors; on the quartermasters; on replacements; on what it was like to spend a night on the front lines; on sad sacks, cowards, and criminals; on Christmas 1944; on weapons of all kinds.

Ambrose reveals the learning process of a great army -- how to cross rivers, how to fight in snow or hedgerows, how to fight in cities, how to coordinate air and ground campaigns, how to fight in winter and on the defensive, how citizens become soldiers in the best army in the world. Ambrose evokes the suffering of warfare, fighting in the cold and wet, gruesome wounds, combat exhaustion, looting, shooting prisoners, random destruction and more. Throughout, the perspective is that of the enlisted men and junior officers. Even when writing about Ike, Monty, Patton, and Bradley, Ambrose does so from the point of view of the men in the front lines and focuses on how the decisions of the brass affected them.

Citizen Soldiers is a biography of the U.S. Army in the European Theater of Operations, June 7, 1944, to May 7, 1945. Allied citizen soldiers overcame their fear and inexperience, the mistakes of the high command, and the enemy to win the war. Once again, Stephen E. Ambrose shows that free men fight better than slaves, that the sons of democracy proved to be better soldiers than the sons of Nazi Germany.

Chapter 14
Jerks, Sad Sacks, Profiteers, and Jim Crow

The GIs in ETO were highly selected in age and physical health, somewhat selected in intelligence, well disciplined. The Army's training system added inches to their chests and leg and arm muscles. It also instilled a sense of responsibility, along with a fear of the consequences of disobeying an order, not to mention criminal behavior: nicely summed up in the old drill sergeant's saying, "The Army can't make you do something, but it sure as hell can make you wish you had." It also did a good job of recognizing and promoting talented young men who were capable of standing the stress and leading effectively.

War brings out the best in many men, as the tiny sample of the men of ETO quoted or cited in this book testifies. To generalize, a large majority of the GIs in Northwest Europe in 1944-45 did their best at whatever they did, and ...

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Reviews

Media Reviews

New York Times Book Review - Carlo D'Este

[A]n unforgettable testament to the World War II generation

New York Times Book Review - Carlo D'Este

[A]n unforgettable testament to the World War II generation

Time Magazine

Citizen Soldiers [is] a high point in Ambrose's long fascination with the nature of leaders and followers.

Time Magazine

Citizen Soldiers [is] a high point in Ambrose's long fascination with the nature of leaders and followers.

Publishers Weekly

It is good to be reminded of brave men's brave deeds with the eloquence and insight that the author brings to this splendid, generously illustrated and moving history.

Author Blurb Ken Burns
What a wonderful book, an emotionally powerful argument for our wonderful, flawed system and its homegrown heroics. I imagine Ambrose's writing room as supreme HQ where he is standing over a huge map of Europe, barking orders, dispatching terrified subordinates, surveying and understanding a vast, tragic human canvas at a glance. Ambrose's arsenal is imposing and effective; his pen is a machine gun detached, hot, and devastating.

Author Blurb Joseph Heller
Citizen Soldiers is just about the most gripping account of the Second World War that I have ever read. It is written with the art of a novelist, the clarity and immediacy of a journalist, and the meticulous intelligence of a sensible historian. I cannot imagine a motion picture that would be more thrilling than the individual vivid accounts of combat activity in Europe from the Normandy landings in June until the final surrender the following May.

Reader Reviews

Cathey Aultman

Citizen Soldiers, A Review
An excellent book. Amazing how he wove so many interviews together making the book flow. Anyone either in WWII, or with veterans among family and/or friends will appreciate this book.

whitepanter

Citizen sodgiers
Amazing!!!

J Zengler

Citizen Soldiers
One of the best books I have ever read. It really puts you there in the last year of WW2. I don't read many books, but I am so glad I read this one. This book makes you want to keep in remembrance the heroes of the war. I also liked how the book ...   Read More

Anonymous

I am 15 years old and I think Citizen Soldiers is an excellent book about World War II. Stephen E. Ambrose is one of my favorite authors and this book made me appreciate even more the sacrifices of the men who fought to preserve democracy. This ...   Read More

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