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

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4.07  ·  Rating details ·  6,064 ratings  ·  928 reviews
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,/>"Clear/>—Bostonhead.”
...more
Kindle Edition, 443 pages
Published May 10th 2016 by Penguin Books
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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…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.…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)
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Average rating 4.07  · 
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Jeffrey Keeten
”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
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Matt
Sep 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“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
Michael
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  ·  review of another edition
A new one by Philbrick?! That makes me want to give a cantankerous, middle-aged SQUEEEE of delight!
Max
Jul 24, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jay Schutt
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
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Howard
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 Ben
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Mahlon
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  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
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Dan
Jul 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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,
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Faith
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.
Louise
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
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Bfisher
Feb 19, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, history
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 st
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Sweetwilliam
Jan 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Dan Lutts
May 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 Washington learne ...more
Debra
May 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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happy
Mar 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.

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Truman32
Jul 29, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 through lu ...more
Jeanette
May 21, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.

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Chris
Jun 16, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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.
Rich
Oct 06, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
Learned a lot about Benedict Arnold, never knew how he became maybe the most famous traitor ever.
Learned he was a top level American general. He had a hand in a few major American victories against the British. Being severely injured in two of them do to his bold nature.
The American British battles were only summarized for the most part.
Washington was out commanded by British many times besides his classic crossing of the Delaware attack/victory.
Writing and characters kept my
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Robert French
Jul 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Brian
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
Hayley Stenger
Feb 05, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Ken
May 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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Kathleen
Aug 02, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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: Cap
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Bill Yeadon
May 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
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Tom
Apr 17, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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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,
...more
“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
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