The book “Comrades,” by Stephen Ambrose, describes the relationships between famous brothers (Dwight/Milton Eisenhower and George/Tom Custer), famous friends (Eisenhower/Patton, Lewis/Clark, and Crazy Horse/He Dog), and soldiers (Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne and assorted World War II veterans), as well as Ambrose’s own family and friends. In addition, a chapter is dedicated to the lack of friendship and the apparent consequences as demonstrated by Richard Nixon.
Each chapter of this book summarizes the relationships between men and describes how these friendships provided the support and guidance that helped to drive them towards success. Ambrose tends to pour on the emotions a little thick at times (at least he didn’t plagiarize) and the book can be unintentionally funny: “I was well into my fifties before I discovered the pleasure of hugging a male friend,” and “At night, sitting around the campfire (with frat brothers), after reading the journals of Lewis and Clark, we would get to talking.” Despite the heavy sentimentality, the book provides interesting anecdotes about charismatic men, although it never becomes completely clear either why the relationships were critical to their success (in many cases, the men were already successful) or what makes these friendships unique from other, less successful friendships. Also, the inclusion of the chapter blaming Nixon’s failures on his lack of friendships seems like an unfair and incomplete assessment. However, in general, this is an entertaining book that gives a glimpse of the special bond that can form between men. While the book occasionally focuses on how the friendship professionally benefited the individuals involved, perhaps the real importance of these relationships has less to do with the success that the friendship inspired than the meaning and enjoyment that it brought to the men’s lives.
This book was a gift from Bernie and Mike Agron and is relevant to our upcoming journey since my brother and I will be spending a large amount of time confined to a 40-foot sailboat. This closeness will likely both strengthen and stress our friendship. How we handle this relationship will be an important component of the trip. Further, beyond the relationship between my brother and I, we are hoping to meet interesting individuals throughout our travels. We expect that this will include both locals in the places that we visit and other members of the sailing community. Finally, I am planning on making every attempt to stay in touch with my friends in the U.S. I expect this to be difficult due to the duration of this trip but I am committed to making every effort. As I have moved around over the past five years, I have come to understand the difficulty of meeting close friends and have come to realize the importance of those friends I already have. One lesson of this book is that good friendships last a lifetime and persevere through long distance and major life changes. If nothing else, this book provides a nice reminder of the value of friendship and allowed me to think about all of the good friends I am fortunate enough to have in my life.