Rick Atkinson

Rick Atkinson
at 2015 National Book Festival
Born Lawrence Rush Atkinson IV
(1952-11-16) November 16, 1952
Munich, then West Germany
Residence Washington, D.C.
Alma mater
  • Journalist, editor
  • historian, author
Agent Raphael Sagalyn
Spouse(s) Jane Ann Chestnut (dentist), May 12, 1979
Children Rush, Sarah
Website The Liberation Trilogy, by Rick Atkinson | Official Website

Lawrence Rush "Rick" Atkinson IV (born November 16, 1952) is an American author. He has won Pulitzer Prizes in history and journalism.

After working as a newspaper reporter, editor, and foreign correspondent for The Washington Post, Atkinson turned to writing military history. His six books include narrative accounts of four different American wars.

His Liberation Trilogy, a history of the American role in the liberation of Europe in World War II, concluded with the publication of The Guns at Last Light in May 2013. In 2010, he received the $100,000 Pritzker Military Library Literature Award for Lifetime Achievement in Military Writing.

Life and career

Atkinson was born in Munich to Margaret (née Howe) and Larry Atkinson, who was a U.S. Army officer. He grew up on military posts around the world, including stints in Salzburg, Georgia, Idaho, Pennsylvania, California, Hawaii, Kansas, and Virginia. Turning down an appointment to West Point,[2] he instead attended East Carolina University on a full scholarship, graduating with a bachelor of arts degree in English in 1974. He received a master of arts degree in English language and literature from the University of Chicago in 1975.

While visiting his parents for Christmas at Fort Riley, Kansas, in 1975, Atkinson found a job as a newspaper reporter for The Morning Sun in Pittsburg, Kansas, covering crime, local government, and other topics in southeast Kansas, an area known as “the Little Balkans” for its ethnic diversity and fractious politics. In April 1977, he joined the staff of The Kansas City Times, working nights in suburban Johnson County, Kansas, before moving to the city desk and eventually serving as a national reporter; in 1981, he joined the newspaper's bureau in Washington, D.C. He won the Pulitzer Prize for national reporting in 1982[1] for a "body of work" that included a series about the West Point class of 1966, which lost more men in Vietnam than any other Military Academy class. He also contributed to the newspaper's coverage of the Hyatt Regency walkway collapse in Kansas City, Missouri, for which the paper's staff in 1982 was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for local spot news reporting.

In November 1983, Atkinson was hired as a reporter on the national staff of the Washington Post. He subsequently wrote about defense issues, the 1984 presidential electionhe covered Rep. Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman vice-presidential candidate for a major party—and various national topics. In 1985, he became deputy national editor, overseeing coverage of defense, diplomacy, and intelligence. In 1988, he returned to reporting on the Post's investigative staff, writing about topics as varied as public housing in the District of Columbia and the secret history of Project Senior C.J., which became the B-2 stealth bomber. In 1991, he was the newspaper's lead writer during the Persian Gulf War. Two years later he joined the foreign staff as bureau chief in Berlin, covering not only Germany and NATO, but also spending considerable time in Somalia and Bosnia. He returned from Europe in 1996 to become assistant managing editor for investigations; in that role, he headed a seven-member team that for more than a year scrutinized shootings by the District of Columbia police department, resulting in “Deadly Force,” a series for which the Post was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

Atkinson left the newspaper world in 1999 to write about World War II, a consuming interest that began with his birth in Germany and was rekindled during his three-year tour in Berlin. Subsequently he twice rejoined the Post for reporting forays, first in 2003, when for two months he accompanied General David Petraeus and the 101st Airborne Division during the invasion of Iraq, and again in 2007, when he made trips to Iraq and Afghanistan while writing “Left of Boom,” an investigative series about the proliferation of roadside bombs in modern warfare, which won the Gerald R. Ford Award for Distinguished Reporting on National Defense. He held the Omar N. Bradley Chair of Strategic Leadership at the United States Army War College and Dickinson College in 2004–2005, and remains an adjunct faculty member at the war college.


Atkinson's first book, written while on leave from the Post, was The Long Gray Line: The American Journey of West Point’s Class of 1966. A 1989 review in Time magazine called it "brilliant history", [3] and Business Week reviewer Dave Griffiths called it "the best book out of Vietnam to date".[1] Author James Salter, reviewing the book for The Washington Post Book World, wrote, "Enormously rich in detail and written with a novelist's brilliance, the pages literally hurry before one." In 1993, Atkinson wrote Crusade: The Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War. In a review, The Wall Street Journal wrote, "No one could have been better prepared to write a book on Desert Storm, and Atkinson's Crusade does full justice to the opportunity." [4]

Publication of The Liberation Trilogy began in 2002 with An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942–1943, acclaimed by The Wall Street Journal as "the best World War II battle narrative since Cornelius Ryan’s classics, The Longest Day and A Bridge Too Far." While with the 101st Airborne Division south of Baghdad in April 2003, Atkinson learned that the book had been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for history. The trilogy's second volume, The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943–1944, published in 2007, drew praise from The New York Times as "a triumph of narrative history, elegantly written...and rooted in the sight and sounds of battle." Volume three, The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944–1945, was published by Henry Holt and Co. in May 2013, and was ranked #1 on the New York Times Hardcover Nonfiction[5] and Combined Print & E-Book Nonfiction[6][7] bestseller lists. A review in The New York Times called the book "a tapestry of fabulous richness and complexity...Atkinson is a master of what might be called 'pointillism history,' assembling the small dots of pure color into a vivid, tumbling narrative...The Liberation Trilogy is a monument achievement."

As a result of his time with Gen. Petraeus and the 101st Airborne, Atkinson also wrote In the Company of Soldiers: A Chronicle of Combat, which The New York Times Book Review called "intimate, vivid, and well-informed", and which Newsweek cited as one of the ten best books of 2004. Atkinson was the lead essayist in Where Valor Rests: Arlington National Cemetery, published by the National Geographic Society in 2007.

In 2013 Atkinson was working on a trilogy about the American Revolution 1775–1781, to be edited by John Sterling.[6]



While working in Kansas City, Atkinson met Jane Ann Chestnut of Lawrence, Kansas, then a first-year dental student. They married in 1979. Dr. Atkinson is currently the director of the Center for Clinical Research at the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research within the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. The Atkinsons live in Washington, D.C., and have two children, Rush (born in 1983), currently a criminal trial attorney for the Justice Department, and Sarah (born 1985), a surgical resident at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center.


  • The Long Gray Line: The American Journey of West Point's Class of 1966. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 1989. ISBN 0-395-48008-6. [9][10]
  • Crusade: The Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. 1993. ISBN 0-3957-1083-9. [4]
  • An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942–1943. New York: Henry Holt. 2002. ISBN 0-8050-6288-2.  (Liberation Trilogy #1)[11] (2003 Pulitzer Prize for History)
  • In the Company of Soldiers: A Chronicle of Combat. New York: Henry Holt. 2004. ISBN 0-8050-7561-5. [12]
  • The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943–1944. New York: Henry Holt. 2007. ISBN 0-8050-6289-0.  (Liberation Trilogy #2)[13]
  • "Where Valor Rests: Arlington National Cemetery". National Geographic. Washington, D.C. 2007. [14]
  • The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944–1945. New York: Henry Holt. 2013. ISBN 0-8050-6290-4.  (Liberation Trilogy #3)[15]
  • D-Day: The Invasion of Normandy, 1944. New York: Henry Holt. 2014. ISBN 9781627791113.  (The Young Readers Adaptation of The Guns of Last Light)[16]
  • Battle of the Bulge. New York: Henry Holt. 2015. ISBN 9781627791137.  (The Young Readers Adaptation of The Guns at Last Light)[17]

Notes and references

  1. 1 2 3 4 "Rick Atkinson". Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale. 2010. Retrieved November 30, 2013 via Fairfax County Public Library. Gale Document Number: GALE|H1000003606. Biography in Context. (subscription required)
  2. Buckley, Tom (October 22, 1989). "ANYONE FOR WAR?". The New York Times. Retrieved November 30, 2013.
  3. Kanfer, Stefan (October 30, 1989). "Books: Point Blank". TIME. Retrieved November 30, 2013. (subscription required)
  4. 1 2 "Crusade".
  5. "Best Sellers - The New York Times". The New York Times. June 2, 2013. Retrieved November 30, 2013.
  6. 1 2 3 Schuessler, Jennifer (May 23, 2013). "Rick Atkinson to Write Trilogy about the American Revolution". Arts Beat: The Culture at Large (blog). New York Times. Retrieved November 30, 2013.
  7. "Best Sellers - The New York Times". The New York Times. June 2, 2013. Retrieved November 30, 2013.
  8. "Samuel Eliot Morison Prize previous winners". Society for Military History. Retrieved December 25, 2017.
  9. "The Long Gray Line".
  10. "The Long Gray Line".
  11. "An Army at Dawn".
  12. "In the Company of Soldiers".
  13. "The Day of Battle".
  14. "Where Valor Rests".
  15. "The Guns at Last Light".
  16. "D-Day".
  17. "Battle of the Bulge [The Young Readers Adaptation]".
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