Absolutely American : four years at West Point

by David Lipsky

Paper Book, 2003




Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 2003.


Drawing on complete, unprecedented access to West Point and its cadets, David Lipsky explores the academy's rich history, describes the demanding regimen that swallows students' days, and examines the Point as a reflection of our society. Is it a quaint anachronism, or does it still embody the ideals of equality, honesty, and loyalty that moved Theodore Roosevelt to proclaim it the most "absolutely American" institution? Lipsky tackles these questions through superbly crafted portraits of cadets and the elite officers who mold them, following them into classrooms, barracks, mess halls, and military exercises. His reportage extends from 1998 through 2002, arguably the most eventful four years in West Point history. He witnesses the end of hazing, the arrival of TV and telephones in dorm rooms, the exposure and concealment of several scandals, and the dramatic aftermath of 9/11. He depicts young people of every race and class, and details a rigorous training program that erases their preconceptions and makes them a tight-knit community.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member dallasblue
A great look at one of America's most storied institutions - West Point. Written by someone who starts as a skeptic and grows to care for and respect the subjects he follows, it's an interesting spotlight on a somewhat machoistic and sometimes miserable university experience.
LibraryThing member ennie
A chronicle of what it's really like to go to West Point. The author followed cadets at the military academy for four years. This environment is completely foreign to me, and one where I'd never survive. It was still interesting to read about. I learned that the "Scent of a Woman" expression "Huah!" is actually used to describe gung-ho-ness. In a June, 2001 graduation address, Paul Wolfowitz talks about surprise attacks and not heeding warnings. He meant Pearl Harbor. A few months later, "instructors are switching on TVs like parting the curtains on the same inexcusable view. 'We're not going to stick with the syllabus today,' one professor declares ... 'This is going to affect your lives more directly than any lesson I have to teach.'"… (more)
LibraryThing member knightlight777
I had quite mixed feelings about this book. I was looking for something that got into what a young person goes through in the USMA. I did get some of that but I also got a heavy does of meandering and pop psychology. David Lipsksy spent four years at the academy covering the stories that developed in the book. It wasn't quite clear how he did this. The over of the book presumably shows him in military haircut and uniforms sitting with the cadets.

Lipsky jumps around back and forth through the book covering the lives, trials, and tribulations of a select number of cadets in various stages of graduation or attempted graduation. We get a brief covering of the alphas who achieve as they have before they got there. More focus is reserved for the chronic screw ups, one in particular George Rash. This guy is a monument to failure and it begs the question how did he ever get there in the first place? The standards and weeding process if very very tough. Yet George gets in and from start to finish struggles to make the grade yet he perseveres to the bitter end, well success actually. It doesn't leave one with a very good feeling about the quality they are putting into our armed forces as an officer. Yet this is just one guy and presumably the majority are the successes.

The plus side was you do get a feeling for what these young people go through and the many tough decisions they face with this inexperience. Many will make their parents and us citizens proud and make make us feel good about our great country and the character it builds.
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