Atkinson, Rick 1952- (Lawrence Rush Atkinson, IV)
Atkinson, Rick 1952- (Lawrence Rush Atkinson, IV)
Born Lawrence Rush Atkinson IV, November 16, 1952, in Munich, West Germany (now Germany); U.S. citizen; son of Larry (a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army) and Margaret Jean (a teacher) Atkinson; married Jane Ann Chestnut (a dentist), May 12, 1979; children: Rush, Sarah. Education: East Carolina State University, B.A., 1974; University of Chicago, M.A., 1975.
Home—Washington, DC. Office—1150 15th St. NW, Washington, DC 20071. Agent—Raphael Sagalyn, The Sagalyn Literary Agency, 4825 Bethesda Ave., Ste. 302, Bethesda, MD 20814.
Pittsburg Morning Sun, Pittsburg, KS, reporter, 1976-77; Kansas City Times, Kansas City, MO, reporter, 1977-83; Washington Post, Washington, DC, investigative reporter, beginning 1983, deputy national editor, 1985-87, Berlin, Germany, bureau chief, 1993-96, assistant managing editor for projects, 1996—. Guest on television programs, including Good Morning America.
Pulitzer Prize for national reporting, 1982; Livingston Award for international reporting; George Polk Award, Long Island University; John Hancock Award for excellence in business and financial journalism, John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co.; Pulitzer Prize for history, 2003; Gen. Omar N. Bradley Chair of Strategic Leadership, U.S. Army War College and Dickinson College, 2004-05; other awards in journalism.
The Long Gray Line: The American Journey of West Point's Class of 1966, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1989.
Crusade: The Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1993.
The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2007.
Where Valor Rests: Arlington National Cemetery, National Geographic (Washington, DC), 2007.
Rick Atkinson is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist whose first book, The Long Gray Line: The American Journey of West Point's Class of 1966, received widespread critical attention. The book focuses on one generation of army officers and the tremendous impact the Vietnam War had on their lives. For the book Atkinson conducted dozens of interviews with class members and their families, and the result is both a historical study and a group biography that Business Week reviewer Dave Griffiths called "the best book out of Vietnam to date."
When the book's subjects entered the United States Military Academy at West Point as cadets in 1962, they were naive and idealistic, inspired by the academy's motto—Duty, Honor, Country—and by President John F. Kennedy's challenge to "pay any price, bear any burden" for their country. Four difficult years at West Point did little to dampen their patriotic enthusiasm, but by the time they graduated in 1966, the U.S. government had started sending soldiers to Vietnam to battle the communist North Vietnamese Army for control of the country. The conflict was not yet a divisive issue among the American public, and the cadets expected to "storm across the Pacific, win the war, and return to ticker tape parades, as their fathers had," noted Griffiths. In the next several years, though, the U.S. government's war strategy proved insufficient for gaining control of the country; the heavy American firepower had little effect on the mobile, flexible enemy army, and large numbers of U.S. troops died for minute territorial gains. As casualties mounted and the war effort stalled, many Americans turned against the war, blaming not only the government that directed the war but also the soldiers who fought in it. The United States conceded the country to the North Vietnamese and pulled out of Vietnam in 1973, but the war remained a contentious public issue for many more years.
Vietnam had a tremendous impact on West Point. Faced with widespread resignations after the war ended, the academy was further weakened by a massive cadet cheating scandal that surfaced in 1976, and the admission of women into West Point that same year caused significant turmoil. Not until the 1980s—with the onset of President Ronald Reagan's pro-military rhetoric and the successful 1983 invasion of Grenada, a tiny country in the West Indies that had been led by a Marxist government—did West Point begin to regain its stellar reputation among the American public.
Of the West Point classes that fought in Vietnam, the class of 1966 was hardest hit: thirty out of the class total of 579 died in the war, and more than one hundred were wounded. Among those who died were Buck Thompson, a popular cadet who was mortally wounded when American bombs were dropped in the wrong area, and Frank Rybicki, Jr., who was accidentally killed by his own rifle. Others survived but were badly injured, such as Bill Haneke, who lost a leg, an eye, and part of a foot in Vietnam. Three of the main characters in The Long Gray Line, John Wheeler, Tom Carhart, and George Crocker, survived the war but took widely varying paths after it ended. Wheeler and Carhart both resigned their commissions—as did many of their classmates—and became lawyers. Later, they were passionately involved in the efforts to build a memorial to veterans of the war but became enemies in the process: while Wheeler favored the final design—a long, stark stretch of black marble with engraved names of those who died in the war—Carhart was bitterly opposed to it. Unlike Wheeler and Carhart, Crocker's faith in the sanctity of the army never wavered. He retained his commission after Vietnam ended and eventually became a full colonel.
Atkinson's ability to portray the complexities and scope of these characters' lives drew praise from critics, who noted that this feature gives his book an intimacy and drama normally found in fiction. Boston Sunday Globe contributor Cullen Murphy, for instance, commented that "although it is a work of nonfiction, The Long Gray Line shares the force and sweep of a Ben Hur or Gone with the Wind. The cast of characters is vast, and we see them grow and change and interact over a period of two full decades…. The result is an awesome feat of biographical reconstruction." Likewise, in his Philadelphia Inquirer review Nicholas Proffitt characterized the book as "a compelling collection of personal stories—stories that inspire even as they break your heart…. Through Atkinson's meticulous research, we are there during each phase of the cadets' epic journey, there to savor their successes and wince at their failures. We live with them and, in some cases, we die with them." Other critics had particular praise for the author's depiction of the subjects' early years at the academy. Atkinson "provides a remarkable picture of cadet life and of West Point itself," noted James Salter in the Washington Post Book World. He added, "The four years at West Point have a powerful romantic aura…. You come to have enormous sympathy for the main characters and the classmates who surround them."
Some reviewers felt that The Long Gray Line—at almost six hundred pages—is overlong and that the author attempts to tell too many stories. Writing in Tribune Books, John Eisenhower commented that "in this otherwise brilliant book, [Atkinson] is guilty of overkill. He tries to characterize too many young men, as well as their wives and sweethearts, and as a result all but a few are two-dimensional." New York Times Book Review contributor Tom Buckley was more harsh, stating that The Long Gray Line "is not so much expanded as bloated—a shapeless grab bag, lacking selectivity, synthesis, a theme or, aside from an uncritical sympathy for one and all, a point of view." And Brian Mitchell, writing in the National Review, pointed out Atkinson's emphasis on description rather than critical commentary, stating that "the author should make some sense of things."
Still, Mitchell concluded that the book's myriad scenes "are often poignant and compelling, and Atkinson's stars are the kind of characters a novelist would invent if they had not been born." Proffitt praised the author's ability to tell his story through "brief and poetic narratives." "Enormously rich in detail and written with a novelist's brilliance," stated Proffitt, "the pages literally hurry before one." Members of West Point's class of 1966 praised Atkinson's objectivity and accuracy. Reviewing the book in the Washington Times, John Wheeler commented: "Why did the class of 1966 bare its soul to a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter? Because we trust him." The class's regard for the author was evident in October 1989, when about one hundred former classmates held a ceremony in honor of Atkinson and his book and presented him with a saber. As quoted by People magazine correspondent Linda Kramer, the inscription on the saber read: "With Deep Appreciation for What You Have Given to Our Class and The Long Gray Line."
Atkinson once told CA: "My interest in the West Point class of 1966 was piqued in 1981 when a graduate from the class, Michael B. Fuller, mentioned that his fifteenth reunion was coming up. I attended the reunion and began what was to be an eight-year effort to reconstruct the tale of this remarkable group of young men."
Atkinson's 1993 work, Crusade: The Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War, is a detailed study of the war, events leading up to it, its progression, and its aftermath. Atkinson drew on his own experiences as a journalist in Saudi Arabia during the war, copious military after-action reports, and more than 500 interviews with participants in the war to create this narrative account of the conflict. In Technology Review, Jonathan B. Tucker wrote, "Unlike other recent histories, Crusade resists the temptation to romanticize its subject and instead provides a clear-eyed, skeptical assessment of the war, the soldiers who fought it, and the weapons they used." Atkinson explores the Pentagon's assertions about the accuracy of its "precision-guided" weapons—proven in combat to be much less accurate than the military claimed, hitting only twenty-five percent of their targets—and notes that like all wars, the Persian Gulf War was "unpredictable, cruel, and violent, damning the innocent and the guilty alike." In National Interest, Paul Wolfowitz wrote that the book "provides a valuable perspective on the conflict," and in the Economist, a reviewer noted, "This is among the best books yet written about the Gulf War."
In 2002 Atkinson published An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943, the first volume of a planned trilogy about the liberation of Europe during World War II. This volume examines the invasion of North Africa by the Allies, which influenced many of the subsequent events of the war. Atkinson relies on battlefield reports and archival material to tell the story of the North African campaign. A Kirkus Reviews writer called this "the most thorough and satisfying" history of the North African campaign.
The trilogy's second volume, The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944, further enhanced Atkinson's reputation as a gifted writer of popular military history. The book details the eleven months of arduous fighting in the Mediterranean Theater from July 1943 to June 1944, culminating with the battle for Rome. Atkinson explains the context for the campaign, beginning with an account of the Trident conference between American President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and their chiefs of staff. Though the United States wished to focus exclusively on the plan to invade northwest Europe, Britain insisted that the Allies should invade Italy after first securing Sicily. The leaders reached a compromise, charging General Dwight D. Eisenhower with devising a Mediterranean campaign that would, in the words of New York Times Book Review contributor James Holland, "knock Italy out of the war and contain the maximum number of German forces."
Though the Allies eventually succeeded, the campaign resulted in huge casualties. Treacherous terrain and the proximity of German supply lines hindered the Allies' advances; strategic errors also played a part. In total, 23,501 Americans were killed in action in Italy between September 1943 and May 1945, and total Allied casualties numbered more than 312,000. In an interview with Jamie Malanowski posted on Malanowski's Web site, Atkinson stated: "The Italian campaign was both a milestone on the road to victory in World War II and a stepping stone toward a free, stable Europe. It was a campaign of liberation that worked as planned by unshackling Italy from both the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini and his alliance with Nazi Germany."
William Grimes, writing in the New York Times Book Review, hailed The Day of Battle as "a triumph of narrative history, elegantly written, thick with unforgettable description and rooted in the sights and sounds of battle." Atkinson, the critic went on, "presents the war as a clash not only of impersonal forces but also of individual characters and wills, captured deftly through interwoven snippets from letters, diaries, memoirs and face-to-face encounters among the principal actors." What is more, Grimes added, Atkinson "excels at describing the furor of battle, and the Italian campaign provides him with abundant raw material." There was house-to-house fighting in Ortona and Monte Cassino, as well as absurdist scenes of soldiers flinging themselves onto the battlefield only to be mowed down by machine gun fire. Field surgeons operated in tents by flashlight; malaria and sexually transmitted diseases spread rapidly; commanders—Patton, Clark, and Montgomery—made mistakes, and Atkinson discusses these critically and, in the view of many critics, fairly.
Writing in Philadelphia Inquirer, Desmond Ryan observed that Atkinson "has a reporter's eye for the telling detail and a historian's sure grasp of the larger picture." The book's "clear and crisp summaries of campaigns and battles," wrote Parameters contributor Len Fullenkamp, "are embroidered with just enough detail to enable the reader to appreciate the issues and challenges in all their complexity, while avoiding the blizzard of details that renders some battle histories difficult if not impossible to follow." California Literary Review critic Peter Bridges hailed The Day of Battle as "one of the best accounts of any war to appear in the last decade or more," and Tom Miller, writing for Military.com, pronounced the book "popular history at its very best."
In 2003, Atkinson, as a reporter for the Washington Post, was given the chance to go to Iraq as an embedded journalist with U.S.-led forces. His account of his two months there with the 101st Airborne Division resulted in the well-received In the Company of Soldiers: A Chronicle of Combat. Much of the book chronicles the division's rapid advance from Kuwait to Baghdad, which included major battles at Najaf, Hilla, and Karbola. Atkinson describes the experience of combat, as well as smaller details about soldiers' daily lives, including interactions with civilians. Martin Blumenson, writing in Parameters, praised the way Atkinson "constantly deepens his portrait of the war in Iraq by using secondary sources on Iraq's past. What he has written is contemporary history." A writer for Publishers Weekly described the book as "the best account yet to come out of the Iraq War."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Bestsellers 90, Issue 2, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1990.
AB Bookman's Weekly, June 27, 1994, review of Crusade: The Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War, p. 2875.
Air Power History, December 22, 2004, Henry Zeybel, review of In the Company of Soldiers: A Chronicle of Combat, p. 55.
Army, November, 2007, John S. Brown, review of The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944, p. 83.
Booklist, September 1, 1993, John Mort, review of Crusade, p. 2; November 1, 1996, Karen Harris, review of Crusade, p. 522; August, 2002, Gilbert Taylor, review of An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943, p. 1882; February 1, 2004, Gilbert Taylor, review of In the Company of Soldiers, p. 930; August 1, 2007, Jay Freeman, review of The Day of Battle, p. 26.
Bookmarks, January-February, 2008, review of The Day of Battle, p. 64.
Book Page, October, 2002, review of An Army at Dawn, p. 6.
Boston Sunday Globe, October 1, 1989, Cullen Murphy, review of The Long Gray Line: The American Journey of West Point's Class of 1966.
Business Week, October 23, 1989, Dave Griffiths, review of The Long Gray Line; December 27, 1993, Russell Mitchell, review of Crusade, p. 20.
Choice, February, 1994, R. Higham, review of Crusade, p. 985.
Christian Science Monitor, April 10, 2003, review of An Army at Dawn, p. 21.
Contemporary Review, May, 2003, review of An Army at Dawn, p. 317.
Economist, January 15, 1994, review of Crusade, p. 93.
Entertainment Weekly, February 27, 2004, Scott Brown, "Live from Baghdad: Three New Books by Journalists Detail the Shock, Awe, and Chaos of Covering the War in Iraq," p. 100.
Foreign Affairs, May-June, 1994, Eliot A. Cohen, review of Crusade, p. 141; January, 2003, review of An Army at Dawn, p. 163.
Journal of Military History, January, 1994, Steve E. Dietrich, review of Crusade, p. 174; October, 2005, Stephen A. Bourque, review of In the Company of Soldiers, p. 1266; January, 2003, Arthur L. Funk, review of An Army at Dawn, p. 271.
Kirkus Reviews, July 15, 2002, review of An Army at Dawn, p. 1001; February 1, 2004, review of In the Company of Soldiers, p. 115; August 1, 2007, review of The Day of Battle.
Kliatt, April, 1991, review of The Long Gray Line, p. 34; January, 1995, review of Crusade, p. 33.
Library Journal, October 15, 1993, Nader Entessar, review of Crusade, p. 78; May 15, 1996, Michael T. Fein, review of Crusade, p. 101; August, 2002, Mark Ellis, review of An Army at Dawn, p. 114; March 15, 2004, Edward Metz, review of In the Company of Soldiers, p. 91.
Los Angeles Times, February 18, 1990, review of The Long Gray Line, p. 7; October 17, 1993, review of Crusade, p. 1; November 24, 2002, review of An Army at Dawn, p. R11.
Marine Corps Gazette, February, 1994, review of Crusade, p. 81.
Military History, March-April, 2008, David T. Zabecki, review of The Day of Battle, p. 70.
National Interest, spring, 1994, Paul Wolfowitz, review of Crusade, p. 87.
National Review, November 24, 1989, Brian Mitchell, review of The Long Gray Line.
Naval War College Review, autumn, 1994, review of Crusade, p. 131.
New Republic, October 11, 1993, Edward Luttwak, review of Crusade, p. 47.
New York Times Book Review, October 22, 1989, Tom Buckley, review of The Long Gray Line; November 28, 1993, Mark Laity, review of Crusade, p. 16; April 4, 2004, Christopher Dickey, "The Story of O," p. 13; September 28, 2007, William Grimes, "In Middle Leg of the Race, the Prize Was Italy"; September 30, 2007, James Holland, "The Italian Job," p. 15.
Observer (London, England), February 4, 1990, review of The Long Gray Line, p. 61.
Parameters, summer, 1995, review of Crusade, p. 55; September 22, 2004, Martin Blumenson, review of In the Company of Soldiers, p. 143; December 22, 2007, Len Fullenkamp, review of The Day of Battle, p. 119.
People, October 30, 1989, Linda Kramer, review of The Long Gray Line.
Philadelphia Inquirer, October 15, 1989, Nicholas Proffitt, review of The Long Gray Line; December 12, 2007, Desmond Ryan, review of The Day of Battle.
Playboy, October, 1989, Digby Diehl, review of The Long Gray Line, p. 30.
Publishers Weekly, August 16, 1993, review of Crusade, p. 91; July 8, 2002, review of An Army at Dawn, p. 38; February 9, 2004, review of In the Company of Soldiers, p. 72; July 30, 2007, review of The Day of Battle, p. 71.
School Library Journal, June 1, 2004, Lynn Nutwell, review of In the Company of Soldiers, p. 178.
Survival, summer, 1995, Jeffrey D. McCausland, review of Crusade, p. 163.
Technology Review, May-June, 1994, Jonathan B. Tucker, review of Crusade, p. 67.
Time, October 30, 1989, Stefan Kanfer, review of The Long Gray Line, p. 90; June 16, 2003, review of An Army at Dawn, p. 21.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), October 1, 1989, John Eisenhower, review of The Long Gray Line; December 5, 1993, review of Crusade, p. 9; December 25, 1994, review of Crusade, p. 2; October 6, 2002, review of An Army at Dawn, p. 1; December 8, 2002, review of An Army at Dawn, p. 3; October 19, 2003, review of In the Company of Soldiers, p. 2; April 11, 2004, James Janega, review of In the Company of Soldiers, p. 5.
USA Today, October 11, 2007, Rick Hampson, review of The Day of Battle, p. 5.
Wall Street Journal, October 12, 1993, John F. Lehman, review of Crusade, p. A18.
Washington Monthly, December, 1989, James Fallows, review of The Long Gray Line, p. 46.
Washington Post Book World, October 8, 1989, James Salter, review of The Long Gray Line; March 31, 1991, review of The Long Gray Line, p. 12; October 10, 1993, review of Crusade, p. 1; September 15, 2002, review of An Army at Dawn, p. 3; September 29, 2002, review of An Army at Dawn, p. 3; December 1, 2002, review of An Army at Dawn, p. 8; March 14, 2004, Anthony Swofford, review of In the Company of Soldiers, p. 3.
Washington Times, October 9, 1989, John Wheeler, review of The Long Gray Line.
California Literary Review,http://www.calitreview.com/ (June 20, 2008), Peter Bridges, review of The Day of Battle.
Conservative Monitor, September, 2007, W.J. Rayment, review of The Day of Battle.
Curled up with a Good Book,http://www.curledup.com/ (June 20, 2008), David Toy, review of The Day of Battle.
History Central,http://www.historycentral.com/ (June 20, 2008), Marc Schulman, review of The Day of Battle.
Jamie Malanowski Web site,http://jamiemalanowski.com/ (June 20, 2008), interview with Atkinson.
Liberation Trilogy Web site,http://www.liberationtrilogy.com/ (June 20, 2008), profile of Atkinson.
Military.com,http://www.military.com/ (June 20, 2008), Tom Miller, review of The Day of Battle.
Radical Academy,http://www.radicalacademy.com/ (June 20, 2008), Jonathan Dolhenty, review of The Day of Battle.