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Absolutely American: Four Years at West Point
Synopses & Reviews
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.
Lipsky's extensive experience covering college students for Rolling Stone helped him gain an astonishing degree of trust and truth from both cadets and administrators. They offer candid insights on drug use, cheating, and the army's tortuous search for meaning as new threats loom. Amid all the turmoil, Lipsky finds, to his surprise, that "of all the young people I'd met at all the colleges I'd visited, West Point cadets — although they are epic complainers — were the happiest."
"Wonderfully engaging, a surprisingly nuanced portrait of these cadets." The Atlanta Journal-Consitution
"A labour of love....[A] genuinely evocative and wonderfully detailed portrait of an absolutely American institution." Newsday
"A fascinating, funny and tremendously well written account of life on the Long Gray Line." Lev Grossman, Time
"Addictive...a story that could inspire even nonmilitary buffs to follow the cadets' careers like those of their favorite sports heroes." Newsweek
"A sunny portrait of a group of young men and women who, as one of them says, 'don't quite fit in.'" The New Yorker
"A superb description of modern military culture, and one of the most gripping accounts of university life I have read." David Brooks, The New York Times Book Review
"Illuminating...Lipsky has done a distinguished service to a proud school." Wook Kim, Entertainment Weekly
"Immensely rich....A genuinely evocative and wonderfully detailed portrait of an absolutely American institution." Brian Palmer, Newsday
Lipsky, a Rolling Stone writer and an award-winning novelist, chronicles daily life at the U.S. Military Academy during the most tumultuous period in its history.
In 1998, West Point made David Lipsky an unprecedented offer: stay at the Academy as long as you like, go wherever you wish, talk to whomever you want, to discover why some of America's most promising young people sacrifice so much to become cadets. Lipsky followed one cadet class into mess halls, barracks, classrooms, bars, and training exercises, from arrival through graduation. By telling their stories, he also examines the Academy as a reflection of our society: Are its principles of equality, patriotism, and honor quaint anachronisms or is it still, as Theodore Roosevelt called it, the most "absolutely American" institution?
During arguably the most eventful four years in West Point's history, Lipsky witnesses the arrival of TVs and phones in dorm rooms, the end of hazing, and innumerable other shifts in policy and practice known collectively as The Changes. He uncovers previously unreported scandals and poignantly evokes the aftermath of September 11, when cadets must prepare to become officers in wartime.
Absolutely American spotlights a remarkable ensemble of characters: a former Eagle Scout who struggles with every facet of the program, from classwork to marching; a foul-mouthed party animal who hates the military and came to West Point to play football; a farm-raised kid who seems to be the perfect soldier, despite his affection for the early work of Georgia Oand#8217;Keeffe; and an exquisitely turned-out female cadet who aspires to "a career in hair and nails" after the Army. These cadets and their classmates are transformed in fascinating, sometimes astonishing, ways by one of America's most mythologized and least understood challenges. Many of them thrive under the rigorous regimen; others battle endlessly just to survive it. A few give up the fight altogether.
Lipsky's extensive experience covering college students for Rolling Stone helped him gain an exceptional degree of trust and candor from both cadets and administrators. They offer frank insights on drug use, cheating, romance, loyalty, duty, patriotism, and the Army's tortuous search for meaning as new threats loom.
Includes bibliographical references (p. -314).
About the Author
David Lipsky is a contributing editor for Rolling Stone. He has written for the New Yorker, the New York Times, Harper's Magazine, and the Boston Globe, among other publications. His fiction has appeared in the New Yorker and The Best American Short Stories, and his novel, The Art Fair, won acclaim from The New York Times Book Review, Newsweek, People, and others. His honors include a MacDowell fellowship and a Henry Hoyns fellowship. He lives in New York City.
Table of Contents
Contents Preface xi Part One THE FIRST YEAR and#149; 1 Part Two THE SECOND YEAR and#149; 81 Part Three THE THIRD YEAR and#149; 139 Part Four THE FOURTH YEAR and#149; 243 Bibliography 313 Acknowledgments 315
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