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Comrades: Brothers, Fathers, Heroes, Sons, Pals, by Stephen Ambrose, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1999, $21.

Stephen Ambrose is best known for his works on the European theater of World War II, the Lewis & Clark expedition, and his biographies of American presidents and generals. Now Ambrose has re-examined some key figures and traced a common thread shared among major players in military history: their camaraderie.

Comrades is not a compilation of Ambrose’s previous works, as his earlier book, The Victors, proved to be, but a fresh look at most of his favorite personalities, revealing new insights. For example, he contrasts General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s warm bond with his brother, Milton, with his cool relationship with Lt. Gen. George S. Patton, Jr. Every time Eisenhower got a new command, he sent for Patton, and Patton rewarded him by winning battles. Despite that, however, Patton’s sometimes outrageous behavior–slapping soldiers, insulting the Soviet Union and comparing American political parties to the Nazi Party–frequently exhausted Eisenhower’s patience. Ambrose shows the pains Eisenhower went through to keep his friend in command in spite of his faults.

Interestingly, Ambrose devotes one chapter to President Richard M. Nixon. Although Ambrose has written three books about Nixon, he clearly has no affection for him. Here, the author shows how the lack of a trusted friend and confidant may have contributed to Nixon’s downfall.

Ambrose also includes chapters on his own bonds with his brothers, friends and most important, his father. In so doing, he explores the core of male friendships.

Ambrose has said that he plans to leave the world of military history and concentrate next on the history of American railroads. If that is true, he has made his exit with grace and style, a quick, 140-page read that is hard to put down. Read it and then pass it to your father or your son.

Kevin Hymel