Valiant Ambition : George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution
by Nathaniel Philbrick

Overview - From the New York Times bestselling author of In The Heart of the Sea and Mayflower comes a surprising account of the middle years of the American Revolution, and the tragic relationship between George Washington and Benedict Arnold.  Read more...

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More About Valiant Ambition by Nathaniel Philbrick
From the New York Times bestselling author of In The Heart of the Sea and Mayflower comes a surprising account of the middle years of the American Revolution, and the tragic relationship between George Washington and Benedict Arnold.

"May be one of the greatest what-if books of the age--a volume that turns one of America's best-known narratives on its head."
--Boston Globe

"Clear and insightful, it consolidates his reputation as one of America's foremost practitioners of narrative nonfiction."
--Wall Street Journal

In September 1776, the vulnerable Continental Army under an unsure George Washington (who had never commanded a large force in battle) evacuates New York after a devastating defeat by the British Army. Three weeks later, near the Canadian border, one of his favorite generals, Benedict Arnold, miraculously succeeds in postponing the British naval advance down Lake Champlain that might have ended the war. Four years later, as the book ends, Washington has vanquished his demons and Arnold has fled to the enemy after a foiled attempt to surrender the American fortress at West Point to the British. After four years of war, America is forced to realize that the real threat to its liberties might not come from without but from within.
Valiant Ambition is a complex, controversial, and dramatic portrait of a people in crisis and the war that gave birth to a nation. The focus is on loyalty and personal integrity, evoking a Shakespearean tragedy that unfolds in the key relationship of Washington and Arnold, who is an impulsive but sympathetic hero whose misfortunes at the hands of self-serving politicians fatally destroy his faith in the legitimacy of the rebellion. As a country wary of tyrants suddenly must figure out how it should be led, Washington's unmatched ability to rise above the petty politics of his time enables him to win the war that really matters.

  • ISBN-13: 9780525426783
  • ISBN-10: 0525426787
  • Publisher: Viking
  • Publish Date: May 2016
  • Page Count: 448
  • Dimensions: 8.9 x 6.4 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds

Related Categories

Books > History > United States - Revolutionary Period (1775-1800)
Books > History > Military - United States
Books > Biography & Autobiography > Military

BookPage Reviews

From victor to turncoat

BookPage Nonfiction Top Pick, May 2016

The state of play in the American Revolution, late 1777: One famous general has lost every significant battle he’s been in, often because he couldn’t curb his aggressive instincts. Another famous general has won several major victories, including one that will prove to be the most pivotal of the war.

The initially unsuccessful general was George Washington; the winner was Benedict Arnold. We know how it turned out—in the coming years, Washington became First in the Hearts of His Countrymen and Arnold became First Traitor. But how on earth did it happen? Nathaniel Philbrick, author of the bestsellers In the Heart of the Sea and Mayflower, tackles this fascinating reversal of fortune in Valiant Ambition, an engrossing narrative of the war’s most difficult years.

In Philbrick’s view, both men were indeed valiant and ambitious, but their fundamental characters were diametrically opposed. Washington had a true moral compass, a long horizon and the capacity to learn from his mistakes. Arnold was impetuous, greedy and consumed with self-regard. When Congress mistreated Arnold, he became enraged, started smuggling contraband and ultimately sold out to the British. 

The British unwittingly helped both men to their fates. The dysfunction of the infant American government was nothing compared to the internecine warfare of the British generals, who spent much of their energy scheming against each other. General William Howe beat Washington in every pitched battle they fought, but his hatred for his compatriot General “Gentleman Johnny” Burgoyne exceeded his desire to win what he probably considered a pointless colonial dust-up. Perhaps Philbrick’s least favorite character is the British spy Major John André, the ruthless charmer whose careless misstep led to Arnold’s downfall and Andre’s own execution.

Philbrick argues that the quarrelsome, divided Americans needed Arnold’s perfidy as much as they did Washington’s greatness to unify their new nation. He pushes aside the patriotic myth to unveil the war’s messy reality—and it’s still a rousing adventure.


This article was originally published in the May 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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