Valiant ambition : George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the fate of the American Revolution

by Nathaniel Philbrick

Hardcover, 2016

Status

Available

Publication

New York, New York : Viking, [2016]

Description

In the summer of 1776, Washington's army in Brooklyn and New York City faced one of the largest invading forces ever assembled by the British Empire. After suffering a series of devastating defeats, Washington's vulnerable and dejected troops were forced to evacuate the southern tip of Manhattan Island. Three weeks later, however, near the Canadian border, one of his favorite and most talented generals accomplished a tactical miracle by stalling the British advance in a viciously fought naval battle on Lake Champlain. An American defeat would have effectively ended the war, and it was Benedict Arnold who saved his young country from ruin. Moving beyond the storied victories at Trenton and Princeton and the ordeal of the Continental army at Valley Forge, Philbrick shows how the injuries Arnold suffered at the Battle of Saratoga set Washington's greatest fighting general on the road to treason. Arnold was an impulsive but sympathetic hero whose misfortunes at the hands of self-serving politicians undermined his faith in the legitimacy of the rebellion. By 1780, he had fled to the enemy after his failed attempt to surrender the American fortress at West Point to the British. During the same period, Washington came to embrace the full scope of leadership. The book tracks the messy collision of military and political goals and shows how the deep divisions among the American people posed a greater threat to their cause than the British army. In a new country wary of tyrants, Washington's unmatched ability to rise above the petty politics of his time enabled him to recognize the war that really mattered. In his treason, Arnold may actually have saved America. By intertwining the stories of Washington and Arnold, Philbrick reveals the dark path America traveled during its revolution. This is a portrait of a people in crisis and the war that gave birth to a nation.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member Bookmarque
This book disabused me of my somewhat romantic idea of Benedict Arnold. Prior to reading it, he was a heartbreaking figure who gave up on the dream of independence after fighting so hard for it. Not quite. At the end of the book, Philbrick recounts a letter exchange between John Laurens and George Washington where he writes that the traitor must now be racked by “a mental hell”. Washington didn’t agree and said that Arnold was much too self-absorbed to have remorse or basically any other strong emotion that wouldn’t directly help him to a goal.

Yes, Arnold fought for American independence, but it was for other than romanticized ideals. It was for what he could get; glory, fortune, power, or any combination of the three. While not exactly mercenary, Arnold was in the fight for what he could get. Between that and his inability to temper action with prudent politicking, he was basically his own worst enemy.

During the bulk of the war, the Army was fragmented, poorly structured, appallingly supplied and led by political appointees rather than by men who knew anything about battle, command or war. Washington eventually learned to navigate this awful situation and by no means were he or Arnold the only one slighted, maligned or outright plotted against, but they are two examples of the right and wrong ways to handle it.

Washington parried with patience and learned from his mistakes, Arnold with harping and doing things the same way over and over. He’s the classic soldier who can execute really well, but who won’t listen to command. His triumphs were all in the face of counter-orders or outright disobedience. He just couldn’t rein it in and eventually drove everyone nuts by his constant recital of his derring-do, his sacrifice of body and fortune to the cause and the fact that no one gave him any respect. Winning ways for sure.

Although the wind up and the pitch is good, the result of the play is lacking. What happened after Arnold’s plan went awry and the British spy was hanged? (oh yeah, a spoiler alert needed there, right?) There’s a little sketch about some battles and his moving to England after the war, but not enough. I understand from previous reading that while Arnold helped the British cause, he wasn’t accepted because a traitor is a traitor. I also wanted to understand how effective he was as a British soldier versus when he was an American soldier. Were the Brits able to control him better? To use him effectively? I think I need another book.
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LibraryThing member wagner.sarah35
A thoughtful and compelling examination of Benedict Arnold. Rather than dismissing Arnold's treasonous actions, Nathaniel Philbrick digs into the revolutionary war general's character and the reasons behind the betrayal. He also does a wonderful job of capturing the spirit of the times and first recreates Arnold as an energetic and spirited patriot, making the ultimate betrayal all the more shocking. A great read and an excellent argument about the significance of Arnold's treason.… (more)
LibraryThing member delta351
This book is brilliant. Philbrick concisely portrays the main characters w all their strengths and weaknesses. Main characters are G Washington and B Arnold, as stated on the cover. What is amazing is all the other interesting personalities involved in the Revolutionary War, and all the bureaucratic infighting that went on. Plenty of relavent maps in this text, which always makes me happy.… (more)
LibraryThing member jetangen4571
Of course Philbrick wrote a well researched, honest book about the personalities and events of the American Rev War, that's why my copy was confiscated by a former re-enactor and I bought myself an Audible copy. Originally, I won a hardcover through Goodreads Giveaways.
As expected, it is also well written and can be assimilated and understood by most. Usually, there is little time spent on the motivations of turncoats, but this book rectifies that in the case of Arnold. Obviously, I consider it a very worthwhile read, and do not hesitate to recommend it.
The audio is narrated by Scott Brick, who is well known for his excellent narrations.
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LibraryThing member labdaddy4
Another excellent book by Nathaniel Philbrick. His histories are easy to read, full of facts, fast paced, and enlightening. This book reads more like a novel and is so different from many works of history that are dull, dry, and tedious to read. I especially enjoy reading a work of American history that fills in and expands on my meager knowledge of important occurrences and periods. I feel I have a much more complete understanding of Washington and the Revolutionary War.… (more)
LibraryThing member GShuk
Nothing is ever a simple as it seems. Learned a detailed account of the Benedict Arnold icon, with a better feel for the issues and times around the revolution. Very entertaining.
LibraryThing member Schmerguls
5518. Valiant Ambition George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution, by Nathaniel Philbrick (read 11 Dec 2017) This 2016 book tells in great detail of Benedict Arnold's recklessly heroic exploits when he was a patriot and of his many quarrels and complaints over how he was treated by other American figures in the Revolution. The account of his treason, in which I was most interested, I thought not as clearly explained as it could have been--in fact, it seems to me I have read a more clear account of it heretofore, though I do not recall where. The book gives a full account of Major Andre's last days, but then hurries to a quick conclusion, with no account of what Arnold did after his evil was found out. This I thought a lack. I know the book does not hold itself out as a biography of Arnold but it would have been appropriate, I felt, to tell what became of Arnold and his wife after Arnold fled to the British. I was a bit disappointed in some aspects of the book.… (more)
LibraryThing member msaucier818
Philbrick has been one of my favorite authors for quite some time now, and this new book does not disappoint. This book tells the story of George Washington and Benedict Arnold during the Revolutionary War up to the point where Arnold turns traitor and escapes to British New York. Philbrick's writing is always very well done, and that is the case here again. I love the way he can tell a story. I don't think there was much new here about Washington, but for me at least, I learned a great deal about Arnold and his actions during the war. Philbrick is also great at bringing in many side stories and the thoughts of players in and around the central figures. Highly recommended.… (more)
LibraryThing member N.W.Moors
Valiant Ambition continues the story of the American Revolution after Philbrick's Bunker Hill. George Washington is the commander of the army, but the Congress is fighting, the British take New York City, and many of the new nation's soldiers are leaving after their term of service.
From the battle of Long Island, through Fort Ticonderoga, the crossing of the Delaware River and the battle of Trenton, to the final treason by Benedict Arnold, this is a glorious recounting of the birth of a nation.
Washington and Arnold are the main protagonists though many other familiar names pop up on both the American and British sides. Mr. Philbrick tells how Washington learned and grew as a general; his first battles were not especially distinguished. On the other hand, Arnold was celebrated, credited with various victories culminating in the battle of Saratoga. Arnold was also volatile and brash, thin-skinned and greedy. He spent a lot of his own money for his country but complained when he was repaid for his efforts. The two men respected each other but didn't really seem to understand each other.
The burning of Danbury, Connecticut and the burning of Ridgefield was a small section but of special interest to me as I was born there. I knew quite a bit about that history but I was surprised that Arnold fought in the battle. I remember General Wooster better as the commander of the American forces and Sybil Ludington's ride.
Mr. Philbrick always writes well. He relates history in an engaging manner. His research is impeccable; I especially enjoyed the pieces of the story of Joseph Plumb Martin, a soldier who left a diary after the war.
Fingers crossed that he will continue the next part of the history of the American Revolution, the war in the South.
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LibraryThing member Carolee888
What impressed me the most from reading this well researched and documented book about Benedict Arnold was how close the United States came to not coming to into being. The author, Nathaniel Philbrick writes with much insight and detail. I feel that I have a good picture of what Benedict Arnold was like physically, in character and know his deepest motivations. The author put the facts together to develop this instead of starting from out national feeling against this person.

I agree with the author that it is the enemy within not the outside nation that we need to be careful of. My sympathy lies with George Washington, I keep thinking while I read this book, did he ever despair of his dream? There was so much to contend with, massive troops, soldiers who wanted to go home, mother nature at her worst, lack of food, lack of money, lack of people to trust. Arnold gave into greed instead of putting country first.

I encourage everyone to read this book for what it was really like during the American Revolution.

What impressed me the most from reading this well researched and documented book about Benedict Arnold was how close the United States came to not coming to into being. The author, Nathaniel Philbrick writes with much insight and detail. I feel that I have a good picture of what Benedict Arnold was like physically, in character and know his deepest motivations. The author put the facts together to develop this instead of starting from out national feeling against this person.

I agree with the author that it is the enemy within not the outside nation that we need to be careful of. My sympathy lies with George Washington, I keep thinking while I read this book, did he ever despair of his dream? There was so much to contend with, massive troops, soldiers who wanted to go home, mother nature at her worst, lack of food, lack of money, lack of people to trust. Arnold gave into greed instead of putting country first.

I encourage everyone to read this book for what it was really like during the American Revolution.

I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the Publisher as a win from FirstReads but that in no way made a difference in my thoughts or feelings in this review.
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LibraryThing member Jarratt
Good book focusing primarily on Washington and Arnold, their relationship, and ultimately, Arnold's betrayal. As you might expect, it's heavy on battle scenes, since Arnold truly was a patriot and a warrior. Philbrick does a good job showing Arnold in a positive light (when deserved) but also showing his darker, impetuous side as well. It's hard not to feel for Arnold as he sees other, far less deserving, men leap over him in rank. But then, Arnold had a way of rubbing many the wrong way, so some of the snubbing is easy to understand.

One very positive aspect of the book was the frequent and appropriately placed maps. I'm not much into specifics of battles, but these maps did a great job of offering visuals to go along with the text; something many books lack. This helped me better understand the routes the British and American troops took, the terrain, and general geography.

I was a bit surprised at how the book ended. I didn't necessarily expect it to cover Yorktown and the end of the war since Arnold wasn't a part of that. But Philbrick doesn't give any information as to what happened to Arnold after the war. I believe he and Peggy moved to England, but what then? I would have liked a biographical wrap-up of him and her at least.
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LibraryThing member writemoves
I am not as familiar with the events during the Revolutionary War and with the start-up of the U.S. democracy as I should be. This very readable book filled in a lot of my knowledge gap. I was fascinated more by the stories around Benedict Arnold than I was about the stories around George Washington. What also struck me was how many important battles were fought in the area I live (Philadelphia, Valley Forge, Trenton etc.) America was very lucky to win its war of independence and its army had to win the war with little support from the Congress in Philadelphia.… (more)

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