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Brothers, Fathers, Heroes, Sons, Pals
by Stephen Ambrose
Touchstone Books ISBN: 0743200748

To Stephen Ambrose, the five best words in the English language are love, wife, home, work, and friend–the latter the most important. In his memoir, Comrades, he explores the concept of male friendship by documenting the friendships of famous brothers, fathers, sons and pals. His book is celebrates these friendships as he compares them to his own.

Known for his comprehensive histories of World War II and biography of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ambrose has done a masterful job of recycling research from those books into this short treatise, which draws from his friendships with his brothers and friends, as well as noted historical figures in American history.

He begins with a look at the close relationship between he and his brothers–from their bonding as children to their breakup during the Vietnam War and their difficult reunion. Ambrose lets his readers know from the beginning that it was the bond with his brothers that inspired him to write this book.

According to Ambrose, men bond sharing a goal. The friendships Ambrose has chosen to celebrate are largely forged in wartime: soldiers hitting the beaches on D-Day, George Armstrong Custer and his brother Tom dying together at Little Big Horn, Crazy Horse and his warrior friend He Dog slaughtering Custers men, Dwight Eisenhower and George Patton working side by side to destroy the Nazi war machine.

Though he features Dwight Eisenhower in two chapters, it’s the chapters on George Armstrong Custer and Crazy Horse that are the most revealing. Both had strong friendships–the former with his admiring siblings, who died with him at the hands of the Sioux Indians, and the latter, a chief of the Sioux, with a childhood friend.

But most moving of all is the last chapter on his friendship with his father, an old-fashioned authority figure and disciplinarian who criticized Ambrose throughout his childhood and teen years. It was Ambrose’s interest in history–namely the American Civil War–that ultimately brought the two of them closer together.

According to Ambrose, friendship is different from all other relationships. "Unlike acquaintanceship, it’s based on love. Unlike lovers and married couples, it’s free from jealousy. Unlike children and parents, it knows neither criticism nor resentment.

Friendship is freely entered into, freely given, freely exercised–and in the end, is human.

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