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

Biography & Autobiography. History. Military. Nonfiction. HTML:A New York Times Bestseller Winner of the George Washington Prize A surprising account of the middle years of the American Revolution and the tragic relationship between George Washington and Benedict Arnold, from the New York Times bestselling author of In The Heart of the Sea, Mayflower, and In the Hurricane's Eye. "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, [Valiant Ambition] consolidates Philbrick's reputation as one of America's foremost practitioners of narrative nonfiction."�??Wall Street JournalIn the second book of his acclaimed American Revolution series, Nathaniel Philbrick turns to the tragic relationship between George Washington and Benedict Arnold. In September 1776, the vulnerable Continental army under an unsure George Washington evacuated New York after a devastating defeat by the British army. Three weeks later, one of his favorite generals, Benedict Arnold, miraculously succeeded in postponing the British naval advance down Lake Champlain that might have lost the war. As this book ends, four years later Washington has vanquished his demons, and Arnold has fled to the enemy. America was forced at last to realize that the real threat to its liberties might not come from without but from withinComplex, controversial, and dramatic, Valiant Ambition is a portrait of a people in crisis and the war that gave bir… (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
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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 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
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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 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 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
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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.
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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
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bureaucratic infighting that went on. Plenty of relavent maps in this text, which always makes me happy.
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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
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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.
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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
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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.
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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
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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.
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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
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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 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
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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 2wonderY
A valuable history that humanizes and myth-busts Benedict Arnold and George Washington; and gives a good overview of the Revolutionary War. Sheesh. It’s a wonder we won that one.
LibraryThing member marshapetry
Very interesting but not the easiest to follow as a listening book. As long as you're reading the hardcopy it's probably easy to flip back and forth to figure out if the author has jumped. Narrator is excellent, and topic overall is interesting but the language is so prolix that it's hard to keep
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track of time and location. (Not everywhere but some crucial places),
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LibraryThing member stevesbookstuff
Loved this book and recommend it highly to anyone interested in stories of the American Revolution. The main story revolves around the paths taken by Benedict Arnold and George Washington through the middle years of the Revolution. Philbrick does of fantastic job of setting the stage and providing
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the details to really make the reservation general's stories come alive. His style and way with a tale made this a quick and enjoyable read.

I am looking forward to reading Philbrick's "Bunker Hill", and "In the Hurricane's Eye", which focus on the beginning and end of the Revolution, respectively.
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LibraryThing member Castlelass
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
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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 military battles, troop movements, and strategy. It furnishes the background and context for the reader. The second half picks up momentum, covering Arnold’s treachery and its immediate aftermath. It goes into depth on what happened, how, and why. The author illuminates factors that may have contributed to Arnold’s traitorous actions. I wanted to learn more about the life of Benedict Arnold, and this book filled the bill.

I thought one of the best aspects of this book was the way in which the inner turmoil of the emerging country was portrayed. At this point in U.S. history, there was no way to raise money to support the army except to obtain funds from the states. The starvation at Valley Forge was due to this lack of funds. The executive and judicial branches did not exist. The legislators engaged in power struggles which tended to take precedence over coming to agreement on a course of action. They were wary of providing too much support for a standing army, wanting to ensure the government remained in civilian hands. In addition, since citizens were not united in their desire for independence, the various factions fought each other in “neutral ground” in several states.

The book delivers accessible narrative, meticulous maps, captioned images of people and places, footnotes on each chapter, an extensive bibliography, and an index. It provided insight into the personalities of these historic figures, what motivated them, and how they handled conflict. My only quibbles were that the first half goes into a bit too much description of the military battles for my taste and the ending was very sudden, apparently leaving room for a follow-up. I had to page back to see if I had missed something. Content includes executions and war-related violence. Recommended to those interested in learning more about the American Revolution, prominent people involved, and what really happened.

This book serves as a cautionary commentary about the dangers of “self-serving opportunism masquerading as patriotism” – a lesson we can still use today.
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LibraryThing member la2bkk
The best written of the author’s series on the Revolutionary War. The author’s style is always popular as it is user-friendly, and never forgets the importance of telling a good story while at the same time imparting information. Unlike at least one of his previous books, which I believed
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sometimes got lost in a necessary detail, this book captures the complex times well and still flows smoothly.

I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of the Saratoga campaign and the machinations involving Benedict Arnold and Major Andre in the West Point debacle.

Recommended.
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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
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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 tuckerresearch
Philbrick is a good writer and a good researcher. This is, mostly, the story of Benedict Arnold told in Philbrick's characteristic verve and wit. There's nothing greatly new here, but it is told in fine form. Washington is shunted in from time to time, but it is really the story of Arnold, with
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some Andre thrown in. The story just ends after Arnold's treason, with short shrift given to his career afterward. But, for what it is, it is a good, well-written book on some neat aspects of the Revolution. The account of the Battle of Saratoga and the surrounding battles was well done, as was Arnold's fights on Lake Champlain.
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Awards

Audie Award (Finalist — History/Biography — 2017)
Massachusetts Book Award (Must-Read (Longlist) — Nonfiction — 2017)
Harry M. Ward Book Prize (Nominee — 2017)

Language

Barcode

10872
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