Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution” as Want to Read:
Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

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

(American Revolution #2)

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  7,851 ratings  ·  1,133 reviews
From the New York Times bestselling author of In The Heart of the Sea, comes a surprising account of the middle years of the American Revolution, and the tragic relationship between George Washington and Benedict Arnold.
In September 1776, the vulnerable Continental Army under an unsure George Washington (who had never commanded a large force in battle) evacuates New Yor
Hardcover, 427 pages
Published May 10th 2016 by Viking
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Valiant Ambition, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Katherine Hebert Perhaps he plans to round out Arnold's life in his next book. He references that there will be a next book in his acknowledgements. My uninformed gues…morePerhaps he plans to round out Arnold's life in his next book. He references that there will be a next book in his acknowledgements. My uninformed guess is that he will focus next on the Revolution as it occurred in the South. So we haven't seen the end of Arnold yet. I am looking forward to learning more about Greene---who commands and starts winning in the South. So maybe it's a "to be continued" situation. (less)
Van Reese I suppose "compelling" is in the eye of the beholder. The compelling thing for me was that Benedict Arnold was a brilliant, bold, and brave general. H…moreI suppose "compelling" is in the eye of the beholder. The compelling thing for me was that Benedict Arnold was a brilliant, bold, and brave general. He truly was a patriot for much of the war. Unfortunately, politics left him out of getting the recognition he deserved. Pride and ambition got the better of him, and he (with prodding from his wife and others) turned against his country. In the end, Americans hated him because he was a traitor, and the Brits hated him because he had caused them so much trouble. He actually probably saved the American cause and did very little to help the British.(less)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.10  · 
Rating details
 ·  7,851 ratings  ·  1,133 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution
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
Sep 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
“The United States had been created through an act of disloyalty. No matter how eloquently the Declaration of Independence had attempted to justify the American rebellion, a residual guilt hovered over the circumstances of the country’s founding. Arnold changed all that. 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, ...more
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
Jul 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: american-history
We follow George Washington and Benedict Arnold from the 1776 Battle of New York through 1780 when Arnold deserts to the British. Philbrick portrays Washington as an inspirational leader for his troops. Steadfast and patient, he was not brilliant, but learned from his mistakes. Arnold was very different. He spoke crudely. He was rough, not smooth. While Washington had a penchant for aggressive action, he was analytical and regularly consulted with others. Arnold was blindly headstrong. But Arnol ...more
As he was valiant,
I honor him.
But, as he was ambitious,
I slew him.

-- William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar

“The real Revolution was so troubling and strange that once the struggle was over, a generation did its best to remove all traces of the truth. No one wanted to remember how after boldly declaring their independence they had so quickly lost their way; how patriotic zeal had lapsed into cynicism and self-interest…. ” – Nathaniel Philbrick, Valiant Ambition

George Washington and Benedict Ar
The Colonial
Sep 04, 2020 rated it liked it
Profound naval historian Nathaniel Philbrick has undertaken a daunting two-part character study of Benedict Arnold and George Washington, in which their leadership styles and loyalties are compared and analyzed. He begins the book with a precursor to the Revolutionary War leading to the year 1776, and—quite like the brief ending—leaves the bare minimum amount of room necessary for further evaluation. As there are already library shelves dedicated solely to George Washington and Arnold, it was an ...more
Jay Schutt
Dec 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
I expected this book to be more about the defection of Benedict Arnold to the British than a history of the American Revolution. But, in order to understand why Arnold did what he did, you need to know some of his reasoning why. Hence, the history lesson.

This is the fourth book by Nathaniel Philbrick that I have read and he is always very thorough in the information he relates to the reader. I learned many new facts about the revolutionary times and Arnold in particular. Especially the events
Dan Lutts
May 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Valiant Ambition tells the story of the American colonies' revolt against Britain by focusing on George Washington and Benedict Arnold, the hero and the traitor. But history is never simple or one-dimensional, even though some people may think it is. Philbrick portrays Washington not as the great military commander of American mythology but as a cautious commander and a poor strategist. The British could have defeated him several times if they had moved a little faster against him. But Washingto ...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
Jul 13, 2021 rated it it was amazing
In Valiant Ambition, Philbrick does two things which were very helpful to me in understanding the American Revolution: he puts all the major battles and campaigns (except for the last year of the war) in context with at least summaries of the key events, and he explains Washington's and Arnold's involvement in each. Washington is the perfect foil for understanding Arnold; they shared several qualities, but were dramatically different where it mattered most. Both men were almost recklessly aggres ...more
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
Joy D
Non-fiction about two ambitious men during the American Revolution covering the period 1776 – 1780, highlighting the similarities and differences between George Washington and Benedict Arnold. The book reveals the temperament and character of each man, which ultimately resulted in one being viewed a hero and the other a villain. Each is depicted as passionate and valiant, but only one retains a moral compass. It is told in two parts. In the first half, the author sets the stage, describing milit ...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
Deacon Tom F
Feb 02, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Philbrick writes another winner!!

Well Researched and referenced book about one of the most crucial turning points in the American Revolution.
It was a huge surprise to me that General Arnold bwas one of the hardest fighting leaders in the Revolution and a highly placed favorite of General George Washington.

I was also Impressed with the number of maps and supporting supporting pictures.

As a history buff, I really enjoyed this book.

For those who are into history--I recommend.
Sep 26, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
Have you ever read a history book in which the author is so obviously biased that it makes you wonder if he would rather have been writing a eulogy? No matter what Arnold does from constantly challenging his superior’s plans, giving passes to Loyalists, or plotting to surrender West Point is presented as the best possible action under the circumstances. He is presented as ever the boldest, bravest, cleverest leader, and nothing is every his fault.
We are given only brief hints at the personal f
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,
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. ...more
Just as even well-known stories often have a subtext or an often hidden opposing vantage point, Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold & the Fate of the American Revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick, introduces his reader to some little known details about the evolving relationship between America's revolutionary leader & the man branded as its most infamous traitor. It isn't so much that the reader is able to be sympathetic to Arnold's behavior but it becomes clear that many would-be ...more
Diane S ☔
May 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nfr-2020
Thoughts soon.
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
Aug 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
Philbrick is a superb historian and writer, garnering a National Book Award (In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex). However, it takes real skill to make a reviled traitor a sympathetic character. Not a lot mind you—but nevertheless—it is still a laudable accomplishment.
Arnold was a talented, charismatic soldier that had a gift for seeing the flaws in enemy lines and courageous enough to exploit them. He exhibited acts of intelligence and bravery in the following: Capture o
Apr 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick exposes readers to a side of Benedict Arnold that is virtually unknown to Americans. The author shares the results of painstaking research into this part of our history where we learn that unlike the notorious traitor to America that he surely was, it didn't have to be that way. He was one of our most daring and brave officers in the Continental Army and won many battles that were ...more
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
Aaron Million
May 18, 2022 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-history
Nathaniel Philbrick has turned in another wonderful effort, this time focusing on George Washington and Benedict Arnold in the heart of the American Revolution. Giving roughly equal time to both men, as well as deftly mixing in much-needed context of what generally was going on in a nascent America, Philbrick maintains a clear-eyed view of Arnold's treachery as well as Washington's mistakes and subsequent learning from them. He succeeds in showing that Arnold's story is more complex than simply ...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
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
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
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
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
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Revolutionary Summer: The Birth of American Independence
  • The Return of George Washington: Uniting the States, 1783-1789
  • George Washington's Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution
  • The British Are Coming: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775-1777
  • The Cause: The American Revolution and its Discontents, 1773-1783
  • Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates: The Forgotten War that Changed American History
  • The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789
  • The First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington
  • Passionate Sage: The Character and Legacy of John Adams
  • Our First Civil War: Patriots and Loyalists in the American Revolution
  • Washington's Spies: The Story of America's First Spy Ring
  • The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West
  • Valley Forge
  • Hero of Two Worlds: The Marquis de Lafayette in the Age of Revolution
  • Washington's Immortals: The Untold Story of an Elite Regiment Who Changed the Course of the Revolution
  • Robert E. Lee: A Life
  • Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different
  • The American Revolution
See similar books…
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

Other books in the series

American Revolution (3 books)
  • Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution
  • In the Hurricane's Eye: The Genius of George Washington and the Victory at Yorktown

Related Articles

Clear some space on your bookshelves, readers. Another packed season of irresistible books is just around the corner! To help you find your...
143 likes · 107 comments
“We all know the story: how a defiant and undisciplined collection of citizen soldiers banded together to defeat the mightiest army on earth. But as those who lived through the nearly decadelong saga of the American Revolution were well aware, that was not how it actually happened. The real Revolution was so troubling and strange that once the struggle was over, a generation did its best to remove all traces of the truth. No one wanted to remember how after boldly declaring their independence they had so quickly lost their way; how patriotic zeal had lapsed into cynicism and self-interest; and how, just when all seemed lost, a traitor had saved them from themselves.” 5 likes
“the greatest danger to America’s future came from self-serving opportunism masquerading as patriotism. At” 4 likes
More quotes…