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Absolutely American: Four Years at West Point

3.93  ·  Rating Details ·  902 Ratings  ·  116 Reviews
As David Lipsky follows a future generation of army officers from their proving grounds to their barracks, he reveals the range of emotions and desires that propels these men and women forward. From the cadet who struggles with every facet of West Point life to those who are decidedly huah, Lipsky shows people facing challenges so daunting and responsibilities so heavy tha ...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published May 11th 2004 by Vintage (first published July 4th 2003)
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Community Reviews

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May 29, 2016 Tom rated it really liked it
The majority of people give the novel a good review. Although most of the pop else who reviewed say they don't usually read nonfiction, they seemed to like it. They thought that he did a good job to portray drama and life at West Point for civilians. I also thought it was interesting that there were a number of former military and West Point grads that enjoyed the book and said it was an accurate representation of West Point and the military. As for at I thought about the book, it was an ok book ...more
Aug 20, 2010 Marie rated it really liked it
I've enjoyed a few works of fiction which were set at either VMI or West Point. In particular I cherish The Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy and the works of Lucien Truscott IV.

Why does a person with extremely liberal views put these near the top of her favorite literature list? Like Absolutely American, these books are a study of our culture in a way few others examine the topic.

Each graduate is the culmination of an investment far exceeding the roughly quarter-million dollars their college ed
Craig Peterson
Jul 14, 2012 Craig Peterson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I heard the author interviewed while my son was in the process of applying for admission to West Point and bought it for him to gain a better understanding of life as a cadet. After he finished it, I read it. Then I read it again after my son's second year at West Point. That second read was much more relevant to me, having seen what my son had experienced to-date. My son graduated from West Point in 2008 and is now 4 years into active service in the army. I've been approached by a number of par ...more
Leora Bersohn
Sep 01, 2014 Leora Bersohn rated it really liked it
A Rolling Stone journalist spends four years with cadets at West Point during a period when the Academy is searching for its mission and finds it again with 9/11. If you're not inherently interested in the military or feats of physical prowess, the book can be a little hard to get into, but the various cadets' narratives gain texture over time, and fortunately among the humorless, fratty, conformist hard-chargers there is an eccentric, sympathetic figure whose progress we track with increasing a ...more
Jan 02, 2010 Amanda rated it really liked it
Absolutely American: Four Years at West Point by David Lipsky wasn't my first choice for a non-fiction book - my favorite non-fiction subdivisions are memoir or historical crime. But my friend Teenie said it was awesome, and she's generally right about that sort of thing. And wouldn't you know it? This was no exception. Lipsky, a writer for Rolling Stone, was given unprecedented access to West Point, and stayed for four years, which allowed him to follow a whole class from plebes to firsties (th ...more
Apr 22, 2015 James rated it really liked it
In many ways, this is a fairly standard book length journalistic deep dive into an institution or school. At some points, it seems like he is checking off boxes. A few pages about African American cadets, check; a few pages about drugs at West Point, check. In the beginning, the author seems very much enamored of West Point which leads him to betray a level of objectivity. West Point is clearly a different college experience and the author bends over backwards to not just record the differences, ...more
Sep 21, 2016 Hal rated it it was ok
I had quite mixed feelings about this book. I was looking for something that got into what a young person goes through in the USMA. I did get some of that but I also got a heavy does of meandering and pop psychology. David Lipsksy spent four years at the academy covering the stories that developed in the book. It wasn't quite clear how he did this. The over of the book presumably shows him in military haircut and uniforms sitting with the cadets.

Lipsky jumps around back and forth through the boo
Jun 15, 2016 Liam rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"West Point operates on a kind of fanatical male efficiency -- the efficiency of timetables, faster computers, a road atlas that leads you to the shortcuts. (You imagine one reason for all the acronyms of military life is that somewhere deep in the Pentagon, manpower analysis has revealed how much troop time is saved through abbreviations on a year-by-year basis.)" (15-16)

"In a society like West Point, information is a closed ecosystem, circulating like weather: it travels upward through chains
Jul 07, 2014 Melody rated it liked it
I usually never read this kind of non-fiction and I don't have any ties at all to West Point or military academies. Very little military connection at all, so as you can imagine even with all of the descriptions he gave, I felt lost during certain parts from start to finish. I never really reached that place where I thought to myself, 'OK, got it.' In short, I kinda felt like one of the cadets interviewed (George Rash). Like I was struggling to stay in the game. I saw it at a book sale, seemed i ...more
Mar 29, 2015 Graham rated it it was amazing
Shelves: subject-nonfic
Really remarkable book, some of the best non-fiction I've ever read. Not what I would imagine at all for a "book about West Point". Pacing is perfect, and Lipsky is a master of interjecting just enough literary color into events to make them more vivid than real life.

Edit - here's a link to an interview with Lipsky about this book. Good introduction to the subject -
Joe Alexander
Dec 19, 2011 Joe Alexander rated it it was ok
The author portrays West Point as a somewhat unpleasant experience that you really have to dedicate yourself to in order to make it through, but which offers a valuable payoff in the end. The book was a little like that too..........except for the payoff at the end...
Rachel Brown
Jul 26, 2012 Rachel Brown rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction, military
Absolutely fantastic prose, and a deft hand with characterization and setting, too. An excellent book.
Marc Baldwin
Nov 01, 2013 Marc Baldwin rated it really liked it
I'm a Navy guy, but Lipsky did an excellent job of sucking me into the West Point drama. My favorite aspect of the book was the discussion about the two "camps" at West Point: the fully engaged "huah" camp and the "I just need to get through these next few years" camp. I've always appreciated those who join the military, even if they serve only one term and then move on. Their service is as needed in the military as the service of the "lifers". But as Lipsky explains, West Point only keeps 40% o ...more
Feb 05, 2012 Ensiform rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
The journalist author chronicles his observations of the cadets and staff at the military academy. He doesn’t stick with one class from induction to graduation, opting instead for a sort of scatter-shot approach which allows him a wider view: the ability to check up on graduates after they’ve moved on to real Army officer status, or to observe the plebes (freshmen) being inducted at any given year, which allows the reader more perspective on the experience.

Lipsky writes with the clear, simple st
Aug 19, 2008 Emilie rated it really liked it
I requested this book from the library on accident, thinking it was actually a different title that Tom had recommended, and I almost returned the book without reading it...I'm glad I didn't do so.
This book follows cadets at the USMA from 1998 through 2002, the bicentennial year of the military academy at West Point. We follow some cadets as they graduate and join a pre 9/11 Army, and other cadets from R-Day all the way until graduation on June 1, 2002, when the new 2nd lieutenants head out in
Dec 20, 2007 Carin rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir, education
a riveting in-depth look at West Point, the author follows two classes, freshmen and senior, for 4 years. It's hard reading it after September 11, when in 2000 the kids are talking about how they're probably going to Bosnia, and yet you know better that they're going to Afghanistan, and their lives, their futures are shortly going to be changed forever, much more so than most of the rest of us Americans. I have always found high school and college a fascinating time-period, as kids learn so much ...more
Jun 24, 2011 Megankellie rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone who likes Friday Night Lights
Well well well, West Point. I inhaled this in three days. This is the direct path to respecting a part of American life you kinda forget exists. Beautifully written and surprisingly lyrical and evocative and very very human. Also you can experience a New York journalist learning Middle American pronunciations. Or like learn you are definitely Midwestern because of how you say "doesn't." Dudn. Dunin. Duzzn. You feel like you are reading about a writer falling in love with a foreign world that you ...more
Cameron Hackett
Mar 03, 2013 Cameron Hackett rated it really liked it
This book, written by David Lipsky, is a series of stroies that confront a lot of issues that cadets face at West Point. The stories are told through cadet life and how it affects them. One of the issues is professionalism. In the late 1990s the Army began experimenting with ways to improve retention among junior officers and noncommissioned officers by reorganizing according to business models. The rationale is that this will help the Army to compete with higher-paid professionals in the civil ...more
Dec 09, 2012 Eva rated it really liked it
Quite a good book--thanks for the rec, Leo! Some favorite quotes:

"Rash paces the floor mats nervously. Schafer moves with grudging deliberation, like a dog that doesn't like any of the places it's allowed to sit." - p17

"The West Point ring is the GLS, the Golden Leg Spreader, for the effect it has on women." - p27

Context for the next quote: Female cadets arrived at West Point in 1976, one more milestone for the bicentennial year; 119 enrolled, 61 graduated. Retired West Point superintendent Gene
Eric Lin
Aug 29, 2012 Eric Lin rated it really liked it
Lipsky follows cadets through 4 years of West Point, who graduate after the 9/11 attacks. I pulled a couple late nights reading this, so the people in the book are definitely compelling. You really feel for them as you read about their lives.

I think the biggest realization I came to while reading this book, was that people at West Point are pretty diverse. They have moments of weakness, they rely on each other, they fail (for guys like George, they fail often). But man. Such heart. Such convicti
Apr 01, 2008 Stephanie rated it liked it
I read this book to get a better sense of the experiences of college students during the time I went to college. One of my good friends from my Model UN days, Seth Johnston, graduated from West Point the same year I graduated from Cal (2003). Whereas I went to grad school and got a job, he (after getting the Marshall fellowship at Oxford) was sent to Afghanistan. This book chronicles the change in West Point in the aftermath in September 11th. Before 9/11, most West Point grads weren't choosing ...more
Anna O'Leary
Oct 09, 2016 Anna O'Leary rated it really liked it
A thoughtfully written piece of nonfiction. This wasn't a conspiracy-buster or gloating about USMA cadets' lives, but really delved into what has changed West Point since its beginning, the intentions of cadets and leadership, and how the intense lifestyle of these cadets made them happier than the average college student. Incredibly interesting - I want to read it again to understand even better.
Jun 05, 2007 Mauri rated it it was amazing
I love this book. It gives a clear insight into a realm which many Americans are clueless about. There is an anecdote at the beginning about a general and his colleagues in uniform being mistaken for National Park Rangers.

This book goes a long way towards explaining military mindset and how training produces the officers we have today. This book follows a class of cadets at West Point for all four of their years there, explaining why things are done the way they are, why and how things do change
Apr 16, 2014 Jessica rated it it was ok
I don't have any direct connection with West Point other than going there to see the parade of cadets and football games. I was very interested to read this behind the scenes look at the cadets and the school. It was difficult to follow because the writing was very choppy. I thought it was broken up into the four years that the cadets are there, but it's really broken up into the four years that David Lipsky was there. It would've been more interesting and meaningful to me if he had followed a c ...more
Oct 04, 2016 Alli rated it liked it
Read this in an afternoon, to determine his methodology. He was cited in Akerlof and Kranton's 2005 article "Identity and the Economics of Organizations," The Journal of Economic Perspectives, 19(1), and based on my experience at USNA, I had concerns about conclusions they drew based on his book.
Sep 30, 2014 Elizabeth rated it really liked it
Lipsky is a Rolling Stone journalist who spent 1998-2002 following a class of cadets at West Point, the country's most famous military academy. Though my father was in the Navy, I don't know much about military life and culture, and it was absolutely fascinating to read about how these young men are taught to become leaders over their four years. I didn't realize that West Point was so academically rigorous -- it's nearly equivalent to attending an Ivy League school -- and the cadets' lives are ...more
Apr 09, 2012 Tanya rated it liked it
It was an interesting book, but it definitely was very choppy to read. In a way it was like a lot of little rolling stone articles. It didn't flow very well, jumped from character to character and west point activity to activity. I had some difficulty remembering which character was which and didn't really get the flow of activity at west point from year to year. Year one, two, three and four all had elements/stories from freshman - senior year, so I don't think I really know what things actuall ...more
Ahmad Lootah
Aug 19, 2015 Ahmad Lootah rated it it was amazing
This book, altough filled with both the good, the bad and the ugly of cadet life, is a greatly addictive fare of life as a cadet at the United States Military Academy, absolutely hooking
Gabriela Francisco
Jul 15, 2014 Gabriela Francisco rated it it was amazing
It's a nonfiction book that reads like a suspense novel. It defies genre. It's a great book, period. I learned so much, appreciated my own country and occupation more after reading it. For we are all soldiers in this battle called Life.
Jason Bell
Great book on the West Point experience from a decidely non-institutional view. Hear from the cadets and watch as they experience life at the United States Military Academy.
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David Lipsky is a contributing editor at Rolling Stone magazine. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, The Best American Short Stories, The Best American Magazine Writing, The New York Times, The New York Times Book Review, and many other publications. He contributes as an essayist to NPR's All Things Considered, and is the recipient of a Lambert Fellowship ...more
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