Article hints at plagiarism by historian

Ambrose's `Wild Blue' has suspect passages

January 05, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

A columnist and a historian have accused best-selling author Stephen E. Ambrose of copying passages in his recent book, The Wild Blue.

The two cite details and phrasing very similar to descriptions in The Wings of Morning, a book by one of the accusers, the historian Thomas Childers.

Both books tell the stories of World War II bomber pilots. Ambrose included footnotes in his book acknowledging that Childers' book was a source of information in the relevant pages. But Ambrose does not acknowledge quoting from the book or borrowing phrases or wording.

In next week's issue of the magazine The Weekly Standard, the columnist, Fred Barnes, argues that Ambrose borrowed far more than what a footnote usually means. Barnes cites several sentences and paragraphs of The Wild Blue that closely echo words in The Wings of Morning.

In an interview last night, Childers, who teaches at the University of Pennsylvania, said he, too, had concluded that Ambrose borrowed excessively. "I felt sort of disappointed," he said.

Ambrose, a respected historian who is an emeritus faculty member at the University of New Orleans, was unavailable for comment. Adam Rothberg, a spokesman for the book's publisher, the Simon & Schuster division of Viacom, said, "Stephen Ambrose's The Wild Blue is an original and important work of World War II history. All research garnered from previously published material is appropriately footnoted."

But the similarity of some passages may provoke debate.

In one section of his book, Childers wrote, "Up, up, up, groping through the clouds for what seemed like an eternity." He added later: "No amount of practice could have prepared them for what they encountered. B-24s, glittering like mica, were popping up out of the clouds all over the sky."

On a similar theme, Ambrose wrote: "Up, up, up he went, until he got above the clouds. No amount of practice could have prepared the pilot and crew for what they encountered - B-24s, glittering like mica, were popping up out of the clouds over here, over there, everywhere."

Ambrose appears to have relied on The Wings of Morning in particular for descriptions of the discomfort of airmen. In one passage, both books contain this sentence verbatim: "The bombardier, navigator and nose turret gunner were forced to squat down, almost on hands and knees, and sidle up to their stations through the nose wheel well of the ship."

Last night, Childers said he did not think Ambrose had deliberately plagiarized his book.

"There is a term the Germans have, Mit dem linken Hand - he did it with the left hand, which means it is something that he is not focused on, he was focused on something else."

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