What'd He Do?
In a nutshell, Ambrose invented pop history. He was the historical advisor on Saving Private Ryan and wrote the book Band of Brothers, that miniseries about WWII that starred the guy from Office Space.
"You know, the Nazis had little pieces of flair they made the Jews wear."
Ambrose also wrote award-winning biographies on Presidents Eisenhower and Nixon. If you've ever wanted to become a famous historian, chances are Stephen was one of your inspirations. Also, chances are you're a massive nerd.
What's the Problem?
In 1995, an almost unknown historian named Thomas Childers published the book Wings of Morning. It was a well-received but relatively obscure novel about the crew of a specific B-24 bomber during WWII.
Ambrose was a fan of the book and, as a firm believer that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, he proceeded to plagiarize the fuck out of it for his hit 2001 novel, The Wild Blue, which was the account of a different group of B-24 crewmen. Ambrose ripped off whole passages of text and stole several sentences and descriptions word for word. Then he got his book published and just sort of hoped no one would notice.
In the writing business, that's what we call "textual rape."
Show me on the table of contents where Dr. Ambrose touched you.
Unfortunately for Stephen, but fortunately for truth, he got caught. Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard noticed what was going on and revealed it to the world. Ambrose was fast to respond.
He had cited Childers' book in his bibliography (although he hadn't come close to listing everything he 'borrowed' from his fellow historian's work) and basically claimed that he'd just "forgotten" to attribute the stolen passages in the text, like he was supposed to.
This chart comes from the Weekly Standard's article about Ambrose, written by Fred Barnes. See what we did there Stephen, you dead bastard? We gave the original author credit for something they fucking wrote.
Is That All?
For a little while, Stephen's apology was enough. Ambrose was famous for turning out books at an astonishing rate. He was the meth-addicted prostitute of popular history, turning tricks faster than anyone else on History Whore Blvd. Of course he was bound to make the occasional mistake. Most people considered the matter settled.
Mark Lewis, of Forbes.com, was not one of those people. He read the first story about Ambrose and, like a good investigative journalist, proceeded to tear apart everything the pop historian had written in his search for the truth.
Lewis first hit gold when he found several blatant thefts in the book Crazy Horse and Custer, which Ambrose pretended to write in 1995. For that novel, Ambrose molested the work of esteemed historical writer Jay Monagham. Here's an excerpt from the Forbes article:
MONAGHAM: "On August 28, 1859, Custer returned to West Point. Cadet James Barroll Washington, a great-great-grandnephew of George Washington, entered that year. He remembered hearing the crowd shout, 'Here comes Custer!' The name meant nothing to him, but he turned, and saw a slim, immature lad with unmilitary figure, slightly rounded shoulders, and gangling walk."