The Ambulance Drivers

Hemingway, Dos Passos, and a Friendship Made and Lost in War


By James McGrath Morris

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After meeting for the first time on the front lines of World War I, two aspiring writers forge an intense twenty-year friendship and write some of America’s greatest novels, giving voice to a “lost generation” shaken by war.

Eager to find his way in life and words, John Dos Passos first witnessed the horror of trench warfare in France as a volunteer ambulance driver retrieving the dead and seriously wounded from the front line. Later in the war, he briefly met another young writer, Ernest Hemingway, who was just arriving for his service in the ambulance corps. When the war was over, both men knew they had to write about it; they had to give voice to what they felt about war and life.

Their friendship and collaboration developed through the peace of the 1920s and 1930s, as Hemingway’s novels soared to success while Dos Passos penned the greatest antiwar novel of his generation, Three Soldiers. In war, Hemingway found adventure, women, and a cause. Dos Passos saw only oppression and futility. Their different visions eventually turned their private friendship into a bitter public fight, fueled by money, jealousy, and lust.

Rich in evocative detail — from Paris cafes to the Austrian Alps, from the streets of Pamplona to the waters of Key West — The Ambulance Drivers is a biography of a turbulent friendship between two of the century’s greatest writers, and an illustration of how war both inspires and destroys, unites and divides.


In writing you have a certain choice that you do not have in life.


Life doesn't often hold out her hand to you—I think you should take it when she does and let the consequences take care of themselves, rather than ask if she wears gloves or not.



ON THE MORNING OF OCTOBER 14, 1916, JOHN RODERIGO DOS PASSOS'S father accompanied him to the Espagne, moored in lower Manhattan. The latest war news unnerved those boarding the Europe-bound ship. After reading about the recent close calls with German U-boats, ninety-five passengers had canceled their reservation.

Since graduating from Harvard University in May, the twenty-year-old Dos Passos had been like a foal confined in too small a paddock. Stuck for the summer at his father's expansive Virginia estate along the Potomac River, he endured the mugginess, stirring only to turn the page of a book. He worked his way through the ten-volume novel Jean-Christophe by the French writer Romain Rolland, who had won the Nobel Prize for Literature the previous year. But what inspired Dos Passos most was Walt Whitman's poem "Song of the Open Road." The poet's invitation to set out on a journey roused Dos Passos. "I wanted to see the war, to paddle up undiscovered rivers, to climb unmapped mountains," he said. "I was frantic to be gone."

He spotted his chance for escape when he learned that men his age were being recruited for ambulance duty in Europe. When the Great War broke out in the summer of 1914 American expatriates living in Paris obtained ambulances and ferried the wounded from the front back to the well-equipped American hospital. Their actions inspired Richard Norton, an American archaeologist living in Paris at the time, who set about launching an organized ambulance service. The son of noted Harvard art history professor Charles Eliot Norton, the socially well-connected younger Norton found ready support for his plan. French millionaire H. Herman Harjes wrote large checks, and the venture was named the Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps.

The Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps pursued drivers as if it were looking for candidates for membership in an elite men's club rather than for service in a war zone. "A volunteer must be a man of good disposition possessed of self-control—in short, a gentleman," said one recruitment letter. From a practical point of view, targeting the American elite for recruitment made sense: the prerequisite ability to speak French and the skill to operate a car were talents acquired primarily by members of the upper class. It also took money to join—recruits were expected to pay for their passage and expenses. Ivy League campuses, with their wealthy students, were choice picking grounds. Soon more than 800 Ivy League volunteers headed to France, 348 from Harvard alone.

Dos Passos decided that being an ambulance driver would bring him to the warfront without serving the war-making powers he despised. But his father soon put the kibosh on any ideas his son might have about joining a team of gentleman drivers dashing about European battlefields. Instead, he told him he would send him to study Spanish in Madrid, safely south of the battlefields. Dos Passos consented to his father's plan when he realized his Iberian confinement would last only until January 1917 when he turned twenty-one. "Then in spring I shall go to Paris and make every endeavor to get to the front by hook or crook," he confided to a friend.

At the dock father and son said their good-byes by the breezy water's edge in the fall coolness. "We had no regrets to express to each other, and no sighs were made," the father wrote to a friend soon after. "It was simply a kiss and au revoir." Later in the afternoon, looking out from the window of his law office, the father watched as the ocean liner carried his son out of New York City's harbor.

It had been an unconventional father-son relationship. The son had been born in a Chicago hotel on January 14, 1896, the product of an affair between the well-known but married New York City attorney John Randolph Dos Passos and Lucy Addison Sprigg Madison, a widow from a socially prominent Petersburg, Virginia, family. Dos Passos and Madison were in love, but a divorce was out of the question for him. A Catholic, he knew his wife would not consent. So the child was named John Roderigo Madison Jr. His childhood was lived out in hotels in Brussels, Biar-ritz, and Boulogne-sur-Mer, places where his parents could meet openly. But time with his father remained rare. "I came to know him," the son said, "through the turbulence of conflicting currents of love and hate that mark many men's feelings for their fathers."

John R. Dos Passos's wife died in 1910, and he soon after married Lucy Madison. Their son was consigned to Choate, a small and exclusive Connecticut boarding school. It was a miserable life, one that Dos Passos hated. Small, skinny, younger than his classmates, wearing thick glasses, and speaking with a stutter, he was bullied by the testosterone-infused bullies who ruled the student bodies of New England prep schools like Choate. "I have no friends—there is no one who cares a rap about me," he wrote in his diary. Books became Dos Passos's dependable companions. They stirred his ambition. Someday, he told his diary, he would be so successful that his classmates would say, "'I went to school with John R. Dos Passos' (If I ever do assume that name.)" In time his mother and father did change his last name so he could affect the guise of being a stepson. Despite the name change and the marriage of his parents, Dos Passos passed the remainder of his childhood devoid of genuine family life.

When sixteen-year-old Dos Passos walked into Harvard Yard in the fall of 1912, he stepped out from a childhood in which he had been unable to fit in anywhere into a world willing to accept him on his own terms. True, many of Harvard's students were the scions of wealth whose place at the university was assured by birthright. But the faculty, unequaled in any other place in the United States, supported an intellectual meritocracy that rewarded excellence rather than social standing. Despite his unhappy years at Choate, the school had well prepared Dos Passos for his studies.

At last in a setting suitable for a poor-sighted shy teenager, Dos Passos drew enough courage to begin planning a life of his choosing. He elected to study art, poetry, and literature, thereby dashing his father's hopes that he would pursue instruction in law. The prodigious reading he had done at Choate grew even more expansive. The new authors he encountered beguiled him. It seemed as if he sought to devour Harvard's entire collection of books. He read, in the original French, authors such as Flaubert, Rimbaud, Verlaine, and Voltaire, and he worked his way through British writers like Oscar Wilde, H. G. Wells, and Laurence Sterne as well as a full repast of Victorian poets and classic writers such as Ovid, Virgil, and Horace, reading these in Latin, of course.

Eager to become a published writer himself, Dos Passos submitted a short story at the end of his first year to the Harvard Monthly. It was only the first. The magazine took twenty-eight other of his stories along with many poems over the next few years. One could not pick up an issue of the Harvard Monthly without finding the Dos Passos byline.

At the close of his junior year in May 1915 Dos Passos opened a letter from his family's housekeeper. His mother's long-term battle with ill health had taken a turn for the worse. Next came a telegram from his father. "Your mother," he wrote, "is gradually sinking and we must prepare for the worse." She died a few days later.

Dos Passos returned home. Devastated by the loss of his one steadfast parent, he even considered not returning to Harvard for his final year. Grieving, he sought to distract himself by taking a trip to the World's Fair in San Francisco. On the Shasta Limited train Dos Passos met a fifteen-year-old student from St. Paul's School, an elite prep school in New Hampshire, who was traveling with his brother and cousin. It was like meeting a younger version of himself. Walter Rumsey Marvin, who went by his middle name, had spent time in European schools; spoke French, loved history, the classics, and reading and writing poetry; and came from wealth. They linked paths again at the World's Fair and in San Diego, where they passed a lazy day under Southern California's sun swimming and climbing the Sunset Cliffs. When they parted for the last time, promises were made to remain in touch.

"Dear Rummy," Dos Passos wrote from the train taking him back east. "When our roads divided the other morning I had quite reconciled myself to not meet any of you people again—because, you know—you never do meet people again that you want to." In Rummy Dos Passos had found a younger brother to mentor, a confidant with whom to share intimate thoughts in the privacy of letter writing, a kindred soul. The summer that had begun with death now sparkled with renewal.

When it came to the deep sorrow over his mother's death, Cambridge also proved to be a tonic. He was elected to the board of the Harvard Monthly. The publication's office, upstairs in the Harvard Union, was a mecca for students who loved to write and talk about books. There Dos Passos gravitated to poets Robert Hillyer, Dudley Poore, and Edward Estlin Cummings, who went by his initials E. E. and who was already experimenting with form, punctuation, and spelling. When work on the magazine was done, the men moved to Dos Passos's room in Thayer Hall overlooking the Yard for literary debates that stretched well into the night, fueled by an ample supply of alcohol.

He was once again busy, engaged in his studies, and full of life.

By the end of 1916 the literary and poetic pleasures of Harvard, the culinary delights of the streets of Cambridge, and liquor were a crumbling bulwark to the outside world. The Great War and the clamor of the interventionists could no longer be kept at bay. "The sounds of marching feet came dimly through the walls of the sanctum upstairs in the Harvard Union," Dos Passos said. "Franco-British propaganda was beating the drums for American intervention. The professors were losing their minds; hating the Huns became a mania."

It was a war that few in America had seen coming and no one in Europe had sought, but once unleashed, it could not be stopped. Military treaties, like the tacky silk of spiderwebs, pulled heavily armed nations into battle following the 1914 assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the presumptive heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. A radical's single gunshot from a pocket-sized pistol set off a continental conflagration of immensity never before seen. Germany and Austria-Hungary, which led off the fighting, and Britain, France, and Russia, the main allies on the other side, were all convinced the war would be over in a matter of months. It was a bad gamble. Stubbornness, misjudgment, and alliances created an inextinguishable explosive mixture. By Christmas 1914 more than six hundred thousand French and German soldiers had died, and five hundred miles of trenches from the Swiss Alps to the North Sea carved out a killing field on soil blackened by bombardment.

The American warmongers gained ground in public opinion as the war dragged on. But they did not sway Dos Passos. Rather, he was inspired by the same kind of pacifism advocated by John Reed, the radical journalist who had graduated from Harvard in 1910. Dos Passos, in the company of E. E. Cummings, made sure to attend Reed's campus speech against US military involvement in Mexico. He carried his admiration for Reed to the Harvard Monthly, where he published two praising reviews of Reed's books. Dos Passos envied and emulated Reed's style of blending facts and impressions in capturing the war in Mexico and Europe. To put the injustices of the world on the page, for Dos Passos this seemed the great power of a writer.

Upon graduation in 1916 Dos Passos confined himself to his father's place in Virginia until he departed for Spain. He consumed books as if he were still in college, and he wrote essays. "Always against something, always the voice crying in the wilderness," he said. But writing was not enough. "I wanted to see the world," he said. "The world was the war."

In Spain Dos Passos waited to turn twenty-one years old and be free of his father's rule. But his January 14, 1917, birthday was soon followed by loss. John R. Dos Passos had been found unconscious on the floor of his bathroom; he died a few hours later of pneumonia. The death of his father brought Dos Passos back to the United States. His mother and father now gone, he had no family aside from a distant half-brother and a maternal aunt. With no one left to stop him, Dos Passos enlisted in the Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps. It was a well-timed decision that permitted him to escape the newly instituted military draft triggered by the US entry into the war on April 6, 1917.

Dos Passos prepared for the work ahead by learning some basic first aid and training to operate an ambulance at a New York City automobile driving school. The skill to drive an ambulance was not easy to acquire. The vehicle had levers below the steering wheel. One served as an accelerator, and the other controlled the spark that ignited the combustion gas inside the engine's cylinders. As the ambulance sped or slowed, the driver had to change the timing of the spark. Too much adjustment either way, and the engine would knock or overheat. All the while the driver had to use his feet, like an organist, to operate three pedals that controlled the transmission's various speeds or put the car in reverse.

When not training, Dos Passos attended leftist political rallies and went out with a new covey of radical friends that included Max Eastman, the editor of the magazine The Masses. But leftist politics were risky off campus. Authorities were increasingly clamping down on dissent now that the nation had declared war on Germany. One night Dos Passos barely escaped arrest when the police raided a Greenwich Village apartment of radicals where he was attending an avant-garde dance recital.

He was happy to be among this crowd. "Every day I become more red," Dos Passos wrote to a friend. "I think we are all of us a pretty milky lot—don't you?—with our tea-table convictions and our radicalism that keeps so consistently within the bounds of decorum. Dammit, why couldn't one of us have refused to register and gone to jail and made a general ass of himself ?" he wrote. "Until Widener [library] is blown up and A. Lawrence Lowell [president of Harvard] assassinated and the Business School destroyed—and its site sowed with salt—no good will come out of Cambridge."

Leaving the United States was a wise move. Congress would soon put the final touches on an Espionage Act that would make such antiwar utterances a criminal offense.

Under a brazen sun on Wednesday morning, June 20, 1917, Dos Passos lugged his heavy duffle bag along the dock at Pier 57 on the west side of lower Manhattan. Moored before him was the SS Chicago. For nine years the French-owned 508-foot liner had carried passengers in its well-appointed cabins across the Atlantic Ocean. But now it had been enlisted to bring American troops to war.

Above him French sailors scurried about the deck, making final preparations for a crossing to Bordeaux, France. On the pier, among the crates and a pair of long guns destined for the ship's hold, a crowd of well-wishers swayed to a band's peppy, if unauthentic, rendition of Hawaiian music. Women, in summer dresses and colorful hats, waved white handkerchiefs. Then hundreds of men, clad in khaki uniforms, pulled free of clasped hands and embraces, swung their gear over their shoulders, fell into line, and climbed the gangplanks like ants on a tree trunk.

Among them were two of Theodore Roosevelt's children, Theodore Jr. and his younger brother Archibald. President Woodrow Wilson had denied their bellicose father's application to lead a battalion to war. Instead, Roosevelt offered his sons to the nation. A few weeks earlier he had written to General John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces, requesting that he take Theodore and Archibald to France. "I apply on behalf of my sons that they may serve under you as enlisted men, to go to the front with the first troops sent over," wrote the former president who was convinced the fight would be a short one now that American troops were being called into battle.

The soldiers were also led to believe that what lay ahead would be a brief adventure. A collective hubris, fed by a compliant press and amplified by the government's propaganda, left the uniformed young men blind to the caldron of death across the ocean. The war had already taken more than 4 million European lives. In just four months the first of many telegrams would begin to be sent to 116,516 American families. Their opening words would be: Deeply regret to inform you

Dos Passos reached the top of the gangplank and pushed his way across the ship's deck. It teemed with soldiers who smelled of sweat and beer and were shouting their good-byes to friends and family on the dock below. He found his assigned stateroom and his two cabin mates, also ambulance corps volunteers. Dos Passos stowed his gear and waited. The hot day wore on. Shortly after five o'clock the mooring lines holding the Chicago fast to the pier were slipped off their bollards and the Hudson's water bubbled as the ship's propellers came to life. "Hurrah—the whistle's blowing and the old tub is starting to move," Dos Passos scribbled furiously on a letter to Rummy. At last he was off on the adventure he had sought since graduating from Harvard a year earlier.

Dos Passos sealed the last of the letters he had dashed off. With his missives in hand, he went up on deck and found the harbor pilot, who agreed to post the letters when he returned to shore. Later, before joining the crowd heading to the bar and smoking rooms, Dos Passos took one last look at New York City outlined by the setting sun in the west. "Rosy yellow and drab purple," he thought, "the buildings of New York slid together into a pyramid above brown smudges of smoke standing out in the water, linked to the land by the dark curves of the bridges."

Ahead lay France, which he loved and knew well from his itinerant childhood in Europe's posh locales, and the great unknown of war.


AS THE CHICAGO, WITH DOS PASSOS ON BOARD, CUT THROUGH THE GRAY- blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean in the summer of 1917, a Model T Ford was churning up a wake of brown dust on the bumpy dirt roads of northern Michigan. At the steering wheel Dr. Clarence Edmonds Hemingway was doing his best to dodge the wheel-busting potholes. In the backseat his wife, Grace, held their two-year-old son on her lap and competed for space with the luggage. By his side in the front seat sat his six-foot-tall, seventeen-year-old son, Ernest.

The group was on its way to Windemere, the family's summer cottage on Walloon Lake. This year the four Hemingway daughters had taken the boat, but the two sons, mother, and father were adventurously traveling the 450 miles of rough roads using $8.32 of gas and oil and spending $11.95 for four nights of lodgings and meals. It was an arduous trip, and the car required on-the-road repairs. But for Ernest Hemingway each bumpy mile brought him closer to a boy's paradise.

Hemingway knew that when the chores were done he would be free to dangle worms in front of pike and pickerel with a bamboo pole in clear deep waters, hunt partridge with a single-barrel twenty-gauge shotgun, swim in the lake, paddle a canoe, and lollygag in a hammock with a book. It was a Huck Finn existence complete with a straw hat.

He was leaving behind the family's hometown of Oak Park, Illinois, a straitlaced sober Chicago suburb whose blue laws prevented anything entertaining from interfering with the Sabbath, that was so dotted with Protestant churches it was nicknamed "Saints' Rest." A few weeks earlier he had marked the end of a youth of churchgoing, steady meritorious schoolwork, and modest athletic success with his graduation from high school.

Ernest Miller Hemingway had been born on July 21, 1899, in a gabled Queen Anne house, one of many set back on the wide lawns that lined Oak Park's shaded streets. His parents were an unusual couple for the staid community, as they were both professionals. His father, Clarence, was a physician, and his mother, Grace, a musician. Hemingway and his siblings came home each day from school to a house that doubled as a place of business where the father saw patients and the mother gave lessons.

The medical practice grew into a moderately prosperous affair. Using income from it and Grace's lessons, along with an inheritance, the family built a three-story house. Large even by Oak Park standards, it was abundant with modern conveniences and designed both for family life and lavish entertainment. Its eight bedrooms held the couple, their six children, an uncle who visited frequently, and a pair of servants.

Grace ruled the homestead. Housework was done by servants and, in their absence, her physician husband. In fact, he shopped, canned vegetables and fruits, and tended the chickens and rabbits in the backyard. Beset with migraine headaches, Grace exempted herself from the duties of housewifery. She liked to remind her family that had she chosen the stage instead of Clarence, her name would be on posters outside the New York Metropolitan Opera.

The parents welcomed time apart from each other. For Clarence the outdoors provided a permissible escape from his domestic life. He shared his enthusiasm for his pastimes with Ernest. Once when his son was ten, Clarence took Ernest quail shooting. In a thicket some distance from his father Ernest found a dead quail still warm to the touch; an errant pellet from his father's gun apparently had felled it. Ernest looked around to see if anyone could see him. Then he aimed his shotgun at the dead bird at his feet, closed his eyes, and pulled the trigger. The explosion of the twin barrels kicked Ernest back against a tree, his ears ringing and nose bleeding. He got to his feet, picked up the quail carcass, and went to find his father.

"Did you get one, Ernie?" asked his father upon spotting his son coming out of the brush.

Ernest held up the dead bird.

"It's a cock. See his white throat? It's a beauty," said his father on examining it.

Ernest went to bed that night in tears, his head under the pillow. "I had lied to him," he confessed years later. "If he would have waked up I would have told him. I think. But he was tired and sleeping heavily."

Summers in northern Michigan also included work. This year there were a large number of house repairs to be done. "To Hemingway chores of that kind were pretty much torture," said Bill Smith, who summered a few miles away. Smith and his two siblings were orphans who lived with an aunt in St. Louis in the winters and escaped north in the summer. Ernest and Bill enjoyed fishing together and shared a love for reading. But it was his sister Katharine who most intrigued Ernest. Slim and small breasted, Katy was not a striking beauty at first glance. Yet when she brushed back her flyaway hair, her green eyes were bewitching. But she was four years his senior, had a boyfriend, and was maddeningly condescending.

Autumn had invariably meant a return to school. The four-story Oak Park and River Forest Township High School, with a palatial front door at the top of the curved stone staircase, was the pride of the village. It succeeded so well in preparing its students that most of them met the admission standards of Yale, Amherst, or Williams and dominated the list of scholarships given by the University of Chicago to the region's students.

Hemingway plowed his way through plane geometry and algebra, biology and zoology, ancient and American history, three years of Latin, and a heavy dose of applied and orchestral music, and he thrived in five classes of English. A cadre of talented English teachers provided topflight instruction. In his first two years they guided Hemingway through The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Twelfth Night, Pilgrim's Progress, David Copperfield, and Silas Marner, among a wide assortment of classical texts. The emphasis in introducing the students to literature was placed on narrative.

Hemingway read Old Testament Narratives, an unusual compilation assembled for class instruction by Charles Elbert Rhodes, a Buffalo, New York, high school principal. In explaining his purpose Rhodes praised the "directness and simplicity of the Biblical style," particularly its narrative that grew from its origins as an oral tale. "Hence, short and simple sentences dominate" with a vocabulary of "concrete words, since they produce immediate and vivid impressions." This examination of the literary aspects of the Old Testament, familiar to him as a religious work from Sunday services at the Third Congregational Church, found a receptive audience in the teenager. "That's how I learned to write by reading the Bible," Hemingway told a friend a few years after leaving Oak Park High.

Later came works by Milton, Pope, Spencer, Chaucer, Wordsworth, Shelley, Keats, and Browning. American authors, with the exception of Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography, were absent from class as well as in the library. Of the British writers that dominated the prescribed reading lists, Hemingway most liked Rudyard Kipling, who favored an economical style of storytelling. It was not long before he could quote Kipling passages verbatim.


  • "The story of the close yet volatile friendship between John Dos Passos and Ernest Hemingway...[A] lively biography of their relationship...A welcome new look at Dos Passos and another sad chapter in the life of Hemingway."
    Kirkus Reviews
  • "Two of the most significant writers of their generation, John Dos Passos and Ernest Hemingway, are described by Morris in his evocative, lively volume about how differently they emerged from the crucible of WWI...Morris's narrative demonstrates how, despite jealousies and differences, the two men found common ground...Dos Passos will be the less recognizable name to most readers, and Morris does a great service by reinserting him into the picture of post-WWI American writers."
    Publishers Weekly
  • "Morris's evocative writing and finely tuned research brings alive the richness of the past--the thronging cafes of Paris, the mortared trenches of Italy, the bullfights of Pamplona, the sun-bleached houses of Key West--as well as the complex personalities of these two great American writers. A tragic story, beautifully written and compulsively readable."--Douglas Preston, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Lost City of the Monkey God
  • "The Ambulance Drivers is one of those rare and gratifying books that seamlessly drops gems of insight on history, art, and politics into a taut and suspenseful story of one of the great literary friendships of the twentieth century."--Debby Applegate, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Most Famous Man in America
  • "Here is a story of war, love, and politics writ large, a story of two literary lions trapped in a double-helix relationship more powerful than either will admit. In this intricately braided dual biography, Morris shows us how the two novelists needed each other, even as they differed--often drastically so--in the way they negotiated the gravitational forces of their times."--Hampton Sides, bestselling author of In the Kingdom of Ice and Ghost Soldiers
  • "In this ingenious dual narrative, James McGrath Morris gives us two lives in high contrast, rendering sharp, revelatory portraits of literary icons we thought we already knew. Writing with deep knowledge and sympathy, Morris has created something rare and fresh: a biography of a friendship."--Megan Marshall, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Margaret Fuller and Elizabeth Bishop: A Miracle for Breakfast
  • "Intimate, vivid, and humane, The Ambulance Drivers propels readers through the intersecting lives of two of our greatest writers. Never have Ernest Hemingway and John Dos Passos seemed so real or so important as in James McGrath Morris's account of their passage through the Great War and the rise of fascism."--T.J. Stiles, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Custer's Trials
  • "Morris writes like an expressionist painter, evoking the essence of Hemingway and Dos Passos's hard-drinking writing life in Paris, Madrid, and Key West. The Ambulance Drivers is a deft and classy literary adventure, infused with wine, beautiful women, and genuine pathos."--Kai Bird, Pulitzer Prize-winning coauthor of American Prometheus
  • "The Ambulance Drivers is an exciting, revealing, important book that evokes a fascinating era. It shows us Hemingway in a new perspective and, equally important, gives Dos Passos the major attention that he indisputably deserves."--David Morrell, New York Times bestselling author of Murder as a Fine Art
  • "[A] highly entertaining biography of a decades-long and often rivalrous literary friendship." —Santa Fe New Mexican
  • "A well-researched book made all the more helpful by copious notes and a good bibliography. For Hemingway and Dos Passos fans, this will be a must-read...A compelling examination of an at-times frail, turbulent and broken friendship."—Army Ancestry Research blog
  • "Delves head first into the mercurial relationship of these two American literary legends...Throughout this riveting biography Morris expertly narrates the journeys, relationships, and life-changing events that inspired two of the greatest authors of the 20th century...A lively and engaging biography that takes a fresh look at the life of Dos Passos....Although readers may at first hesitate to embark on yet another analysis of Ernest Hemingway, Morris' framing of the context of his fragile and contemptuous relationship with fellow literary giant John Dos Passos creates a worthwhile read. It will most certainly fascinate Dos Passos and Hemingway aficionados, as well as the casual literary biography enthusiast." —New York Journal of Books
  • "A superb examination of the bond that helped shape the modern literary movement in America...A fascinating read that will satisfy specialized scholars and general audiences alike with its careful research and highly readable narrative. The book offers more than straight biography of two of the 20th century's most important American authors-it intertwines selections from works they were producing at significant points in their lives...Morris is masterful in his weaving of the Hemingway and Dos Passos timelines...Morris is adept at making the historical record lifelike, giving a palpable sense of the climate in which these modern writers were forged...Thoughtful and engaging...The Ambulance Drivers will do for Hemingway criticism what Scott Donaldson's vigorous Hemingway and Fitzgerald: The Rise and Fall of a Literary Friendship did in 1999: offer a complete post-mortem analysis of a critically important friendship that had a part in shaping a literary movement."—Washington Independent Review of Books
  • "The story of Hemingway and Dos Passos is as exciting as any of their novels...A quick-paced narrative that weaves back and forth between the two men's lives...A riveting and rollicking good read...Sanitizing any dry academic influences, [McGrath Morris] pares his subjects down to an essence that makes them seem real...The book is hard to put down, and leaves us feeling closer to these two remarkable men...There's no doubting that the lives of this generation of writers forms every bit as important a part of their story as the books they produced. The Ambulance Drivers offers a delightful and entertaining entry into that world."—Popmatters
  • "Morris tugs the reader into the boozy, bitchy world of his protagonists. Famous friends bustle in and out...As readable as a novel."—The Economist
  • "Trim and absorbing."—Washington Post
  • "Extremely well-researched, The Ambulance Drivers is the tale of two American writers whose work was affected heavily by the angels and demons of a lost generation that conspired to put them at odds."—Chico News & Review
  • "Dos Passos gets his due in James McGrath Morris' The Ambulance Drivers...A well-written and interesting book about an interesting time and two very interesting writers."—Washington Times
  • "Full of historical and personal details."—Dallas Morning News
  • "James McGrath Morris jettisons most of the minutiae necessary in a normal biography and the result reads more like a novel than a biography. The protagonist is a self-effacing writer, John Dos Passos, and the antagonist a demon-ridden artist, Ernest Hemingway. Morris lets the chips fall where they may."—Buffalo News
  • "Deftly catches the essence of the duo's mercurial relationship-and the events that led to the destruction of their friendship...[A] multifaceted book."—Idaho Statesman
  • "[An] illuminating examination of the relationship between two great American writers."—Terry Fallis, Toronto Globe and Mail
  • "James McGrath Morris looks closely at the difficult friendship of Hemingway and Dos Passos."—Elaine Showalter, New York Times
  • "A fascinating story of the friendship between literary giants...A great telling of their struggles and of what led to their successes."

    San Francisco Book Review
  • "The book ostensibly focuses on their work as ambulance drivers, picking up and transporting badly wounded and dead soldiers, but it also presents the following years of their lives: their inspirations, their relationships, their successes, their failures."

    Curled Up with a Good Book
  • "Unusual and highly necessary...The value of this important new biography is that we are reminded of how much has been lost-for decades-as the Hemingway Industry stayed in overdrive, while the great and good works of John Dos Passos were gradually consigned to oblivion...We have lost a great deal by not paying more attention to the life and work of John Dos Passos. This new book helps us to rectify that error...Hemingway will always be important. But the most important thing about this new biography is that it reminds us that reading John Dos Passos is even more essential."
    Neworld Review
  • "Relates in impressive detail the friendship and falling out between two idealistic men whose lives were changed and careers launched while in the trenches."
    EMS World
  • "Compelling and insightful...Morris's extensive research on his two subjects is evident...While it's easy for some biographies to be bogged down in details and facts, The Ambulance Drivers is a fluid, engrossing read."
    Portland Book Review
  • "With a clear, direct narrative...James McGrath Morris offers insight into what brought these writers together and what tore them apart. An eye for telling detail makes the postwar world come alive for readers...[Morris] brings these writers to life."

    New Mexico Magazine

  • "[Morris] does a good job of identifying the differences in the two men's novel-writing styles and in the audiences they cultivated...One comes away from this book wanting to read or reread Dos Passos...Recommended."
  • "Morris provides a unique perspective by narrating the two authors' life experiences in a way that all veterans can relate to after returning home with the scars of war...This book is a must for anyone with interest in the early portions of the 1900s and how the 'Great World' and the 'war to end all wars' shaped the world we live in today. Morris does an outstanding job of relating the real-life experiences of the two main characters throughout the book to lay the ground work for further investigation of Hemingway's and Dos Passos's written works."
    Military Review
  • "[An] unknown story about two great American authors...Absorbing...James McGrath Morris brings us a new saga in the ever-fascinating world of Ernest Hemingway."—Berkshire Eagle
  • "James McGrath Morris is to be commended for doing something unusual and highly necessary in his book...Rather than merely recycle aspects or elements of the all-too-familiar Hemingway legend, what Morris has done is focus with superlative intent on recapitulating how the First World War galvanized the coming-of-age of young Hemingway."—HoneySuckle Magazine

On Sale
Mar 28, 2017
Page Count
336 pages
Da Capo Press

James McGrath Morris

About the Author

James McGrath Morris is the author of four previous books, including the New York Times bestseller Eye on the Struggle: Ethel Payne, The First Lady of the Black Press, which was awarded the Benjamin Hooks National Book Prize, and the highly acclaimed Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print, and Power. He has appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered, PBS’s News Hour, and C-Span’s Book TV. A former journalist, he was the founding editor of the monthly Biographer’s Craft and has served as both the executive director and president of Biographers International Organization (BIO). Morris lives in Tesuque, New Mexico.

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