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on 12 June 2005
This is the best book Ambrose has put out there. 'Band Of Brothers' is about one very small part of the allied effort and the Ambrose style of hero-worship soon becomes very sickly, 'D-Day' is totally mis-titled, riddled with errors and insulting to the non-US allies, but 'Citizen Soldiers' sets out to be a sweeping look at the men who fought in the US army in NW Europe and the result is very well worth while. Don't let the books mentioned above put you off reading this one.
There is nothing in this book about the Pacific or Mediterranean Theatre of operations except the odd passing reference, usually to compare statistics.
What Ambrose does is take quotes from written first hand accounts, quotes from oral histories at the Eisenhower Centre and then quotes from his own research and conversation with veterans. This book puts them all together in a largely chronological order to give the reader a very good idea of conditions and attitudes of GIs from D-Day to victory in Europe. The finished product is very readable and skips along at a good pace despite the almost 500 page length.
My main criticisms of the book are these:
* The maps are disappointing in both ease of reading and level of detail. Several pages are set aside for good quality glossy prints of photographs which would have been better used for quality map reproduction in my opinion.
* Although Ambrose keeps his own opinions to himself more than in his other books, they are still present from time to time and it is fair to say that his selection of quotes often seems to have been made to back-up his own beliefs.
* Ambrose's knowledge of the air war in Europe is certainly lacking and the book is weak in this area.
* While the book is about American GIs, on occasion the lack of mention of other allied actions can leave the reader confronted with obvious questions going unanswered.
Having said all that, I would recommend this book to those interested in the European theatre with the simple caveat that you must never take any Ambrose book as your single source of information about any single aspect of that war.
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on 3 June 2003
This is simply a great book. As usual, Ambrose writes from the personal testimony of the men who were there. It's difficult therefore to criticise or argue with any of the subject matter - it is how they felt during events so we have to respect that fact. We can only imagine what it was like to be on the Western Front in WW2, reading this is as close as we'll get to understanding how it really felt.
I have to admit my ignorance about the campaign, I was well read on the air war in the West but not the conflict on the ground. The impression I had was that there were a few intense battles (Ardennes and D-Day for example) but in general the war on the ground was a simple affair. I was shocked however to see the attrition rates of units, 200% over the 12 months fighting in some cases. This simply beggars belief and the personal insights of the combatants did on occasion bring a lump to my throat.
I take the point of others, Ambrose writes from a very 'America'-centric viewpoint. This is inevitable as the interviews he used are with American veterans. In addition however I'm British, and there are no doubt many who would read my views and be offended (for which I apologise), but we have to accept that the war was won by the Americans and Russians. They were no better soldiers than us, but we could not match their numbers or industrial output. The Brits should be (and are) justly proud that they stopped the Germans expanding any further West than France, but we would never have pushed them back without help. On occasion Ambrose (and his witnesses) reflect these facts but I don't think that warrants critisism and I certainly don't take offence.
Another very interesting point is the acknowledgement by Ambrose of the completely different culture and ethos in the US and British Army. The US were very much shoot first, ask questions later and reliant on an individual's initiative. The British relied upon planning and discipline over and above all else. Both codes have their advantages and disadvantages, and I think that Ambrose does make that point. His account of Patton and Montgomery's different approaches to crossing the Rhine illustrate this perfectly. What makes this even more interesting is the current debate surrounding friendly fire incidents in the Gulf conflict - the same fundamental differences of approach resulting in the US being far more likely to transgress.
Anyway, all I can do is recommend this book and extend my gratitude and respect to the veterens who contributed and to Ambrose for his work.
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VINE VOICEon 3 June 2004
It has been a little while since I have read this book so I will keep it short.

The author's remit here is the European war from D-Day as experienced by the US forces. As such there is little material on the other allies, which is not a flaw (as some reviewers see it) because the book does not set out to cover the entire period or theatre. If it had covered the entire allied efforts in as much detail, it would be a hugely long work and as mentioned, not in it's remit. Ambrose was after all an American and few would criticise a similar book from a British, Canadian or even German point of view on the same grounds. To those accusing the author of a singular American outlook, I suggest his excellent 'Pegasus Bridge' an account of the British Airborne's skillful and brave opening raid on 'Fortress Europe', which he handles fairly and with suitable respect.

Ambrose gives the reader a good grounding in the main events of the period, detailing chronologicaly the American drive toward Germany from June 1945 to the end of the war in Europe. This wouldn't be the first book I would recommend to someone who wants to find out about what happened between 1939 and 1945, as it's scope is somewhat narrow, there are other books which cover the whole war more generally but Citizen Soldiers does fit in when the reader is more aware of a wider picture.

On a negative note, Ambrose does levy in a hefty dollop of opinion, which does detract from it as being a work of detached, unbiased and objective history. Sometimes the opinions are those of the participants, which is fine and is after all a part of history. However sometimes the author introduces his own opinion, which is not. If you can get over Ambrose's less than objective style, you'll find a worthy history, just make sure you are not expecting a full account, from all sides, of the last great efforts of WWII.
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on 7 March 1998
While standing in line for a book-signing at a local book store, I picked up "Citizen Soldiers" to quickly flip through. I was immediately pulled into the book and couldn't put it down. Ambrose's writing style made me live the dread, horror and aching cold the front-line infantry went through, particularly through the Winter of 1944-1945. My father was a medic in the 87th Division of Patton's Third Army and was actively involved in the Battle of the Bulge. He rarely spoke of his experiences during the war and now I guess I understand why. I believe he had experienced enough and didn't really care to relive a very difficult time. However, Dr. Ambrose masterfully conveys not only the trauma of battle, but also the strength of the human spirit. This book has compelled me to investigate other literature about World War II, particularly those works that tell the story from the people on the front line.
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on 25 December 1997
As a Brit, my view of WW2 is influenced by Chester Wilmot's 'The Struggle for Europe' which is very supportive of Montgomery and rather questioning of Eisenhower, Bradley and (especially) Patton. Ambrose's new book combines a resolute defence of Patton's style with a heart-rending picture of front-line life, and death. A typical US division lost its infantry strength twice over within the 11 month campaigning season before victory. It lost its junior officer and NCO stregnth thrice over. Many of these casualties were incurred during the pointless grinding attacks on the German border and after Ardennes offensive. Herein lies the greatest irony of the book, the generals Ambrose idolises are the same men who caused such unnecessary suffering through their own ignorance (few officers over Captain ever visited the US army front-lines, contrast this with Monty and Horrocks' style of personal leadership). In the end the true heros are the GIs who did their duty in their thousands despite unimaginable conditions of physical and mental hardship. They proved that soldiers of democracies fighting in a just cause can meet and beat any army in the world. I shall ask my son to read this book when he is older, to understand what our parents and grandparents lived through, or gave, to keep our countries free.
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on 6 April 2003
This is another Ambrose collection of veteran's memoirs. If you enjoy reading servicemen's histories of their war experiences, then you will find this book a fascinating example. There are countless tales of derring-do and descriptions of sights unique to the 1940's.
The book also contains numerous attacks on the effectiveness of British efforts to confront the Nazis. It would appear from the text that British forces were only in France in order to slow down the advance to Berlin, and offer an obnoxious hindrance to the United States liberators. Montgomery is singled out for particularly stinging treatment, despite his drafting and acceptance of the Nazi surrender. This is not mentioned in the book.
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on 30 May 1998
Although the author uses verbatim testimony from veterans, their comments, while sometimes powerful, are lost in the text and appear too frequently as random quotations for which the context is unclear.
Historical innacuracies and/or poor use of English marr this otherwise important book. For example the author twice refers to ME 163s as single-engine jets; "By this stage, the Germans had hundreds of single-engine jets (Messerschmitt 163)..." The ME 163 was not. It was in fact a highly dangerous single-engined liquid-fueled ROCKET propelled fighter with about 3 minutes of fuel - enough to get it to bomber altitude, steer (glide) at high speed to its target(s) and then glide (also at high speed) back to a landing area. Also the author's reference to the British "Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry" armored regiment is innacurate - they were the Sherwood Forresters Yeomanry.
The benchmark for great historical writing is Lyn MacDonald and unfortunatley this book falls short.
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on 12 May 1998
Well written and excellently crafted. This has to be the best book I've read on the European Theater. Ambrose presents the stories of the front-line soldier in a manner that is easily understood, brining the images of combat off of the page and into the reader's imagination. The stories are sometimes amusing, sometimes shocking, and out and out frightening. This goes for both the German Soldiers and American. I have a new respect for our veterans of this great conflict, and for Ambrose. Anyone with an interest in military history should read this book. you will not be disappointed! Ambrose presents his material in a fresh manner. Instead of obscure facts and minute details of battle, he depicts what war was like for the typical soldier of both sides. Anyone can identify with these stories because these soldiers could have been any individual. This is a book i will read again!
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on 30 November 2002
This is an interesting and well written account of the experiences of the soldiers of The USA and , to a lesser extent, Germany. It is very readable.
However, those were not the only nations who had combatants involved. Ambrose appears relatively dismissive of the contribution of those other nations. As a Brit I was struck several times with the derisive fashion with which he deals with the differences of approach between the various armies, with little effort made to explore the possible causes for those differences.
Despite that shortcoming, this is a good book for anybody with a more than passing interest in this period of history
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This isn't a history book as such, even if it follows the events and timeline from D-day to VE - day (Victory in Europe) but it is a collection of glimpses of war by the soldiers, NCOs and junior officers of WW2 mostly from an American standpoint but including the German experience on a smaller scale.

For me it was a very sobering read and filled up my knowledge of WW2 gathered from other more direct history books. The collection of memories is impressive and made me feel for the men standing cold and wet in their trenches, in paticular the GI who due to a system of replacements to Divisions on an individual level were in the front line continously from their first day until they died, were wounded or the war ended. For several units the turnaround was over 200% and still higher for junior officers and NCOs, the very men that led the others into battle.

You can criticise the book for being American biased or drawing sometimes linear and one sided conclusions. Fair enough and for this I deduct 1 star. But as for the rest, these are important everyday images of what the war was like for the ordinary man and as such the book shines.

I recommend it.
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