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

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  4,566 Ratings  ·  741 Reviews
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 ...more
Hardcover, 427 pages
Published May 10th 2016 by Viking
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Amy I thought the same thing. I read what I thought was the last chapter, and then realized it was the Epilogue. I was expecting the book to cover to the…moreI thought the same thing. I read what I thought was the last chapter, and then realized it was the Epilogue. I was expecting the book to cover to the end of the war. I also looked up Arnold's Wikipedia page after finishing the book. I'd heard before that he moved to England and lived a bit of a miserable life in poverty. Many in England didn't like him because he was a "rebel", not a British patriot. (less)

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Jeffrey Keeten
Jul 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
”How can we draw the line and say at what precise point [treachery begins]...when the treachery is in progress of execution, or...when the mind is still wavering upon it? In short, how loose and slippery becomes the ground...if...we stray forth in quest of secret motives and designs!”

Lord Mahon, History of England vol. 7, 1854

 photo Benedict20Arnold_zpsbheyzw03.jpg
Benedict Arnold

I wrestle with the idea of Benedict Arnold every time I read any book regarding the American Revolution. He is inescapable. He was a dynamic, aggressive lea
I am at the point where I know that everything Philbrick produces makes for a stellar read. His works also make a good antidote to my lament from the Everly Brothers song, “I don’t know much about history.” That is especially true about colonial American history. With the help of a couple of McCullough books (“1776” and “John Adams”) and two great books by Philbrick I have gotten a fair foundation. With his “Mayflower”, I got a fulsome story about Plymouth Colony and a remarkable 100 years of re ...more
Jason Koivu
May 10, 2016 marked it as to-read
A new one by Philbrick?! That makes me want to give a cantankerous, middle-aged SQUEEEE of delight!
May 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2016
In Valiant Ambition, Philbrick chronicles the life and tumultuous times of Benedict Arnold, America's most infamous traitor. I learned a few things about Arnold that I never knew and was reminded of several that I had forgotten. In Philbrick's capable hands A new Arnold biography would've been a great book. However, fortunately for The reader he goes far beyond mere biography here, and tries to understand and explain(Without justifying) what would lead a man to betray his country, in Arnold's ca ...more
Steven Z.
Jun 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
By May of 1780 the Continental Army under the command of George Washington had reached a point of no return. According to Joseph Plumb Martin, the son of a minister from Milford, CT, and a soldier who seems to appear at most major Revolutionary War battles, “here was the army starved and naked.” The situation had evolved because of the horrendous winter in Morristown, NJ, the lack of support and funding by the Continental Congress, and the weak infrastructure that plagued Washington’s army. Most ...more
Through the stories of Washington and Arnold, Nathaniel Philbrick gives a condensed view of the American Revolution. In his snapshot you see not just a colony bulking at a superpower, you also see a civil war. Inside the revolutionary faction of that war there are self-less patriots alongside self-dealing careerists. Like a novel it is laid out with scenes that develop characters through their actions that foreshadow a climax.

George Washington, according to Philbrick is aggressive and tightly s
Jul 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Excellent book about Benedict Arnold. Philbrick masterfully interweaves Arnold’s story with the larger story of the Revolutionary War and the pivotal battles fought in the north.

Prior to reading this book, I did not have an appreciation for how pivotal Arnold’s leadership was, early in the war, to America’s success. I also found it fascinating how he wanted to live like royalty when he was appointed military leader of Philadelphia while he recuperated from a shattered leg suffered at Saratoga,
Jan 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Nathaniel Philbrick’s latest book, A Valiant Ambition is a masterstroke of insight into two of the most important men of the American Revolution: Benedict Arnold and his Excellency, George Washington. To me, Arnold is one of the most interesting characters in American history. The fact is, had Arnold been killed at Saratoga, he would have also been one of the most revered. However, it is not how you start. It’s how you finish. And we all know that Arnold finished poorly. Philbrick’s work helps t ...more
Mar 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history-military
Mr. Philbrick has written another excellent look at an episode in American History. In Valiant Ambition, he looks at two men in the American Revolution that occupy the opposite ends of ends of the spectrum of heroes of the war - George Washington and Benedict Arnold.

The author compares and contrasts the experience of both men. He looks at their tactical abilities, their ability to shape the men around them, their political savvy and most importantly their ability to learn.

In looking at Arnold, t
David Eppenstein
Our Revolution has always been a period of history I find fascinating. Since retiring I have been able to read about this and other historical periods and events without the guilt associated with neglected professional obligations. It's kind of hard to enjoy a good book when you have so many periodicals and legal advance sheets sitting on, under, and around your desk but that's over and now I can read with abandon.

In the course of my retirement reading I had continually run across the name of B
May 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
What research! The only thing it lost for me was in the small minutia of detail and associations, I rather got "lost" in the length of the book. But what a deep, deep characterization of Benedict Arnold. And for so many numerous other generals, and all around movers and shakers of the American Revolution.

The photos and the drawings from the time were 5 star outstanding.

So much of the beginnings of the USA hung by a thread. And on the personality components of a few people too, IMHO.

Peggy Arnol
Dec 04, 2017 rated it it was ok
I enjoy reading political history and social history but I really dislike military history and unfortunately that's all this book seemed to be about, at least the first part of the book which is all I managed to read before abandoning it. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher but I wound up borrowing and listening to the audiobook from the library. The narrator didn't manage to make the book any less boring.
May 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley
4.5 stars

Received from the Publisher and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Valiant Ambition was a very ambitious undertaking by Philbrick and he did not disappoint. I first read Philbrick's work when my book club selected Mayflower: A story of Courage, Community and War. I was instantly hooked by that book and have recommended it many times. Needless to say, I was very excited when I was given the opportunity to read Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, adn the Fate of
Jun 16, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: am-revolution
Valiant Ambition is about Benedict Arnold's betrayal during the American Revolution. I enjoyed the last portion of the book the most in which the author explained how Arnold's treachery unfolded. I was unfamiliar with the details of how Arnold escaped and how his British accomplice, Major John Andre, ended up being caught.
Robert French
Jul 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, biography, war, 2016
I have read a fair amount of military history over the last 40 years, but ironically not about the American Revolutionary War. So most of my understanding comes from the myths and clichés I probably learned in elementary and junior high school in Boise, Idaho over 50 plus years ago. History was obviously poorly taught when I was young. Most of what I know is just snapshots of events, with little detail and much myth making. So I have heard of the Boston Tea Party, Paul Revere (not Paul Revere an ...more
Jul 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
Nathaniel Philbrick’s Valiant Ambition chronicles the sacrifices of the American Continental Army as they strove to save America from a lifetime of British oppression including (but not limited to) drinking vast quantities of tea, wearing bowler hats as we walk our pasty selves to the red telephone box on the corner to make a call, apologizing all the time, and regarding Mr. Bean as a comedic genius. The truth is that the upstart Americans were close to losing the war many times over. Usually th ...more
Apr 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Nathaniel Philbrick delivers another thoughtful analysis on the subject on the American Revolution and the heroes and villains it carted in the form of George Washington and Benedict Arnold. He explores the complex character of Arnold and the slights and personality that made him into the traitor we remember today. The book does a 30,000 foot view of key events like the battle of Saratoga, the plots against Washington culminating in the Conway Cabal and then a deep dive on Benedict Arnold around ...more
Feb 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, biography
This book is a useful overview of Benedict Arnold’s military career, and of the personality traits that made him initially a hero, and then led him into treachery. It is a plausible narrative of Arnold as the deeply flawed hero, who might not have gone rogue had he taken a different path at a number of critical points. Philbrick contrasts the deterioration of his character with the growth of Washington’s as they face challenges.

James Wilkinson has an interesting minor role in this story as an Ia
Bill Yeadon
May 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The more history books I read the more I am disappointed at the minuscule amounts of history we learned in school. I realize that there is only so much time in our classes but I wish our teachers had encouraged us to try to read more history in our free time.

This book is a prime example. Ask almost anyone you know about Benedict Arnold and they will say he was a horrible traitor in the Revolutionary War. As a matter of fact, he is probably the most famous traitor in American history.

But there is
Apr 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history-american
“We shall never be able to defend a post until we shoot a general.”

This quote by John Adams, in a letter to his wife describing the pragmatic if less then heroic abandonment of Ft. Ticonderoga to superior British forces, captures a gimlet-eyed view of the Revolution you probably never heard in Grade School. This is no purely hagiographic account of Olympian patriots, civilian or military, sacrificing all personal reward for the good of the "country," such as it was, in its tenuous infancy. The
Aug 23, 2016 rated it it was ok
A few interesting anecdotes, but not a compelling read. Nothing new, for one, and the author's snide, resentful tone as to Washington and the Revolution comes across as petulance. Clearly, his sympathy for Benedict Arnold surpasses any regard he might have for Washington. To be sure, Arnold had reason to feel cheated by the Continental Congress in some ways, but his betrayal of the Americans was unbalanced and inexcusable. Some comments made by the author, such as the assertion that the founding ...more
Tom Gase
Jul 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Philbrick is now one of my favorite history writers, right up there with Erik Larson, David McCullough and Doris Kearns Goodwin. This book is about what led to Benedict Arnold becoming a traitor as well as what went on with the American Revolution from about 1776-1779. I can understand now why Arnold turned traitor. I don't think it was a good thing, but I understand. Basically, the United States leaders treated him like crap even though he was a pretty good general. A little overanxious and ful ...more
Scott Rhee
Jan 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, western
Everybody who has ever taken a high school American history class (and stayed awake in it) is familiar with the name Benedict Arnold and why he’s famous. In case you’re one of the ones who slept through that class, Arnold was NOT the inventor of the Eggs Benedict. He was a hero of the American Revolution who became a traitor by joining the British side. Other than that, most people don’t know or care who Arnold was.

Thankfully, historian Nathaniel Philbrick cares. In his book “Valiant Ambition”,
May 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I love me some history and the American Revolution is high on my list of topics. In this book, Nathaniel Philbrick gives a more level look at the downfall of Benedict Arnold without excusing his behavior. In short, there are plenty of villains, bootlickers, opportunists, vainglorious pips, and egoists to go around in the story of our nation's birth. Philbrick gives the wide-lens view.

I already knew that Arnold, injured twice in battle, came two early deaths close to being remembered as a nationa
Blaine DeSantis
Oct 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
My first book written by Nathaniel Philbrick. A very good effort on a very important and also complicated topic - Washington and Benedict Arnold. The book takes us through most of the Revolutionary War and focuses on a lot of Battles or skirmishes that I never was even aware of! The battles are supplemented by many maps of the battlefields and fortifications and there are a lot of sketches and drawings in the photo section of the book that allows the reader to put faces to the names.
We see Washi
Nancy Knab
Jul 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
“By threatening to destroy the newly created republic through, ironically, his own betrayal, Arnold gave this nation of traitors the greatest of gifts; a myth of creation. The American people had come to revere George Washington, but a hero alone was not sufficient to bring them together. Now they had the despised villain Benedict Arnold. They knew both what they were fighting for – and against.”

The American Revolution had everything: men with super-inflated egos, untried military officers, blo
Steven Peterson
Jun 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is a fascinating--but ultimately somewhat unsatisfying--book. The volume juxtaposes Benedict Arnold and George Washington. The title indicates the link between them. Valiance and ambition. Both demonstrated great valor and both had ambitions.

One sees that with Washington during the French and Indian War. He felt underappreciated by the British--ambition not realized. He also showed great valor--such as after Braddock's defeat. In the Revolutionary War, he showed almost reckless valor, takin
Anne Morgan
May 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
Through much of the book the reader finds themselves wondering how America won the war at all given the poor training and military defeats they experienced. The personality clashes of individual generals and Congressmen as they sought to gain personal glory and profit with America coming in second to their ambition, seems like it should have destroyed the country before the first year of war was out. In the end Philbrick believes that it was Arnold's treachery that in fact brought America togeth ...more
Feb 04, 2016 rated it liked it
This is a well researched, deftly written account of how the United States nearly lost the Revolution.
In the process Philbrick provides an analysis of the personalities of both George Washington and Benedict Arnold, two men who were comrades in arms and very much alike in many ways. The author also uncovers where these two personalities diverged and why one became a hero and the other a traitor. A great portion of the first two thirds of the book dissects many of the shattering divisions between
May 12, 2016 rated it liked it
I guess my tastes are running towards non-fiction these days.

Very interesting and well written from page one. So much detail that contradicts schoolyard mythology.

Came to the end and suffered a severe let down. Events come to a quick conclusion with Arnold effecting a rapid escape. The author doesn't follow much of Arnold's life after his defection. A few things here and there but we don't learn of his final years or much about the consequences of his actions. It seems the author ran out of ste
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I can't wait for this book. 13 22 Jan 01, 2017 12:00PM  
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Philbrick was Brown’s first Intercollegiate All-American sailor in 1978; that year he won the Sunfish North Americans in Barrington, RI; today he and his wife Melissa sail their Beetle Cat Clio and their Tiffany Jane 34 Marie-J in the waters surrounding Nantucket Island.

After grad school, Philbrick worked for four years at Sailing World magazine; was a freelancer for a number of years, during whic
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“the greatest danger to America’s future came from self-serving opportunism masquerading as patriotism. At” 1 likes
“Lee wrote, “[and] lament with you that fatal indecision of mind which in war is a much greater disqualification than stupidity or even want of personal courage. . . . Eternal defeat and miscarriage must attend the man of the best parts if cursed with indecision.” Washington was as aware as” 0 likes
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