by David Lipsky
Reviewed by Nordeen Morello, Book-‘Em
2004) Patriotism has become popular. Admiration for the military is high.
These are not necessarily sentiments one would expect from a journalist for
Rolling Stones magazine, however. Yet, the only bias found in David Lipsky's
Absolutely American is one of a positive nature.
Lipsky, on assignment to produce an article about West Point for the magazine, was so
intrigued by what he saw, that he stayed to "watch" for four years. This non-fiction work
is the result. The author was granted unlimited access to the Academy and the cadets from
1998-2002. The book follows the four-year course, highlighting events through the eyes of a
handful of cadets.
"Not only was the Army not the awful thing my father had imagined, it was the sort of
America he always pictured," Lipsky notes. "Of all the young people I'd met, the West
Point cadets were the happiest."
Book-'Em's reaction was very mixed; comments ranged from "fascinating," "fluid" and "an
engaging read" to "boring," "unclear," and "poorly written." There was consensus on a few
points: it is a very informative work, the individual cadets did not fit the stereotypes we
had in our minds, and the author presented an honest portrayal of the institution. That West
Point is a model of diversity, meritocracy, and integration was not disputed. Lipsky never
whitewashes the realities; he does highlight that West Point life works for a very positive
The book also illuminates the vacuum and "culture gap" our military lived in between
the end of the Cold War and the era begun on 9-11-01. (Note: the author was on campus at
that time.) We felt there were some gaps, notably an exploration of gender perspectives
Ours was not a very focused discussion. We meandered thru
some personal ROTC experiences and the current sexual harassment
scandal at the Air Force Academy. Other book groups might
want to discuss how the elements of academy life could serve
society at large, or to look at the parallels and differences
between these cadets and civilian college students.
As one member commented, "I wanted to love it. I only liked it." Nevertheless, West Point
is located in our backyard and we see these young men and women on the news each night.
Absolutely American has merit as a selection.
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