Ambrose's book is ten years newer than D'Este's Decision in Normandy, but that isn't what makes it different. What makes it different from any of the other D-Day works I have read recently is its sheer weight of personal accounts. Ambrose presents the story by scene the way a painter fills a canvas, adding this story here, then that one there, gradually moving the narrative forward. This is immensely helpful for later reference since you can go back to the story you remember, whether it's the destroyers off the beaches or a part of the story of the airborne troops.
Each chapter is filled with firsthand accounts, and after a while I began wondering how much of the book's tone and theme was actually just the veterans' words, but when I went back to the beginning I realized that Ambrose was in fact telling an overarching theme in the book.
I actually already knew that, because about 20 years ago I was at a judicial conference in New Orleans at which he spoke, and he described D-Day as the place where we would see which system would prevail. Would it be the young men trained in the Nazi system in Germany, or the young men brought up under freedom? Who would take the initiative when the time came, and make decisions and move forward? The book begins with the same question Ambrose posed at the conference he spoke at probably a year before he passed away.
It then provides a riveting setting of the stage before moving into the episodic treatment of the actual battle. The book takes forever to read, but it was never a slog. It was a collection of stories, well-told, although in places credit certainly belongs to the men that were telling them for coming up with the right words. They frequently reminded me of Eugene Sledge's With the Old Breed in the way that he calmly describes something that really beggars description, and you finish reading it wondering how he managed to find the words.
There's a phrase in Hamilton that I thought of a number of times where Eliza says about the death of her son that "there are places that the words don't reach" and with that in mind I'm filled with appreciation that the men, their interviewers, and Ambrose found the words to tell their stories.