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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 O’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.
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Individuality would not seem to be a highly prized virtue at West Point. After all, new cadets arriving at the military academy are not required to pack anything more than a toothbrush and some underwear since they will be issued everything else. But despite their uniformity and disciplined bearing, the cadets profiled in David Lipsky's Absolutely American are still college kids who have moved away from their hometowns to figure out what to do with their lives. Lipsky was given unprecedented access at West Point and spent a full four years following a class from wide-eyed arrival through graduation. The most fascinating cadets are the ones who don't fit the gung-ho West Point stereotype. George Rash faces expulsion on a regular basis but persistently hangs in, "Huck" Finn just wants to play football but becomes more enamored of the military life than he ever expected, and Christi Cicerelle stays perfectly coiffed and, as she says, "girly," even while becoming a highly skilled soldier. Lipsky's tenure came at a pivotal time in the institution's history: hazing had recently been discontinued (part of a series of reforms referred to with both gravity and a little remorse as "The Changes") and the attacks of September 11, 2001 placed the United States in a war which the cadets would have to fight. The academy, in Lipsky's portrayal, demands much of its charges, its standards are high, and the possibility of being "separated" from West Point looms large for any cadet not up to par. Yet the cadets are shown as largely happy people, using the harsh demands of a West Point experience to find the kind of structure and purpose that other college students would envy. Lipsky, a contributing editor at Rolling Stone, creates portraits that are, by turns, hilarious, touching, harrowing, disappointing and joyful. As his subjects finally graduate and launch their careers, readers may feel like a proud parent or friend standing in the crowd and cheering their accomplishments. --John MoeFrom the Back Cover:
"Absolutely amazing. Lipsky doesn't just get close to his characters. He's inside their skin. With a laser eye for every telling detail, and with glistening prose, he delivers an uncannily intimate chronicle of West Point life. This is the rare work of non-fiction that actually does read like a gripping novel."
-- John Colapinto, author of As Nature Made Him and About the Author
"A remarkable achievement. This superbly written account offers an unprecedented look inside one of America’s most mythic places. It is absolutely engrossing."
-- Kevin Baker, author of Dreamland and Paradise Alley
"Absolutely American has the feel of a classic, a book that will be read for years, by the military-minded of course, but also by everyone with the imagination to see their life as a test, the results of which go right into the permanent record. In addition to being one of our best writers and storytellers, David Lipsky has a great pair of eyes. He has taken the military experience and turned it into poetry, as smooth and elegant and purposeful as the sound made by a column of marching soldiers."
-- Rich Cohen, author of Tough Jews and Lake Effect
"A deeply insightful, brilliantly revealing book about the highs and lows of being a West Point cadet. In the tradition of Tom Wolfe, Hunter S. Thompson, and George Plimpton, David Lipsky embedded himself at the U.S. Military Academy, hoping to deflate its time-honored myths. He succeeded. Absolutely American is an unqualified page turner."
-- Douglas Brinkley, Director of the Eisenhower Center, author of Wheels for the World and The American Heritage History of the United States
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