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

Nathaniel Philbrick. Viking, $30 (448p) ISBN 978-0-525-42678-3
By recounting inconvenient truths, including “how patriotic zeal had lapsed into cynicism and self-interest,” Philbrick (Mayflower) once again casts new light on a period of American history with which many readers may assume familiarity. He relates the four years of the Revolutionary War (1776–1780) in a compulsively readable and fascinating narrative, prefacing his account with a provocative description of what really happened during the American Revolution, which was “so troubling and strange that once the struggle was over, a generation did its best to remove all traces of the truth.” Philbrick makes vivid and memorable the details of numerous military engagements and reliably punctures any preconceptions that the rebels’ victory was inevitable. Eye-openers abound, such as how British general John Burgoyne’s use of Native American warriors backfired, as “even more than their love of liberty, the New Englanders’ multigenerational fear of native peoples was what finally moved them to rise up and extirpate” the British. Balancing his portrayals of the protagonists, Philbrick presents Washington’s weaknesses as a military commander without apology and contextualizes Arnold’s eventual betrayal of his country in the context of a long list of slights against him. Philbrick’s deep scholarship, nuanced analysis, and novelistic storytelling add up to another triumph. Maps. (May)
Reviewed on: 02/15/2016
Release date: 05/10/2016
Genre: Nonfiction
Compact Disc - 978-0-14-752436-2
Hardcover - 860 pages - 978-1-4104-8950-0
Paperback - 448 pages - 978-0-14-311019-4
Paperback - 978-1-59413-971-0
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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