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

by Nathaniel Philbrick

Choice
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.

By 1780, the actions of ambitious, self-interested Continental Army generals--including George Washington and Benedict Arnold--nearly resulted in America losing the Revolutionary War. Britain's 1777 occupation of Philadelphia led Washington to curb his desire for glory and thereafter to "do what was best for his ... country, no matter what the critics (as well as his inner demons) might say." Arnold's questionable financial dealings while military commander of Philadelphia following British withdrawal made him the object of a "merciless witch hunt" by Pennsylvania officials, absent which "one cannot help but wonder whether [Arnold] would have betrayed his country...." His fiancée, loyalist Peggy Shippen, may have "enticed" Arnold to defect to the British, but Philbrick concludes that Arnold turned traitor "first and foremost for the money." Arnold's treason shocked Americans by exposing the danger of internal collapse and rekindled support for the American cause at a time when the war teetered on the brink of failure. With its synthesis of recent scholarship, clear prose, and cogent analysis, Valiant Ambition replaces James Thomas Flexner's The Traitor and the Spy (1953) as the most nuanced account of Arnold's treason. Summing Up: Recommended. All levels/libraries. --James C. Bradford, Texas A&M University


Library Journal
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

In American history, one name defines treason, Benedict Arnold, and another often represents honor, George Washington. Philbrick (Mayflower) does an excellent job of showing that Arnold was not always despised by Americans; in fact, he was seen as a brilliant on-field general with courage to spare. Why, then, did he attempt to sacrifice the fort at West Point to the British? In 1776, Arnold secured Fort Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain and led a successful attack on an overpowering British fleet. Meanwhile, Washington lost New York City in a brief battle and retreated to New Jersey. As the war progressed, though, Washington learned to temper his own aggressiveness in order to defeat the larger British force. Arnold, wounded at the Battle of Saratoga, became cynical of Congress and politicians. Arnold's wife, a Loyalist, soon pushed him over the traitorous edge. Philbrick argues that Arnold's actions led to a more unified populace and helped America win her independence. Scott Brick's narration enhances this enlightening history. VERDICT A splendid view of the country's most notorious traitor and the evolving leadership of Washington. Recommended for all listeners with an interest in early American history ["This page-turner will be valued by both casual readers and historians": LJ 3/1/16 review of the Viking hc.]-Jason L. Steagall, Gateway Technical Coll. Lib., Elkhorn, WI © Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

*Starred Review* Philbrick (Bunker Hill, 2013) long ago established his narrative-nonfiction bona fides with such books as In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex (2000), winner of the National Book Award and which was recently made into a movie. His formidable storytelling skills are displayed anew in this riveting, perceptive account of the American Revolution as seen through a very defined lens: the growing strength of General Washington's leadership qualities as he suppresses his propensity for anger and sharpens his ability to rise above the bickering of his staff and Congress to keep a focus on the bigger picture of securing independence, and on the growing frustration of one of his best generals, Benedict Arnold, over the slow pace of the war effort and Congress' intrusive oversight. Granted, many pages of this unforgettable book are given over to troop activities in the field. But the beauty and wisdom of the narrative as a whole lie in its indelible picture of the troubles Washington went through to lead a successful revolution, and in isolating the personality traits and exterior forces that would lead to the name of Benedict Arnold becoming synonymous with treason. Bound to draw a good readership to libraries' American-history stacks.--Hooper, Brad Copyright 2016 Booklist


Library Journal
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Best-selling author Philbrick (Bunker Hill; The Mayflower) recounts details of -Revolutionary War battles in the context of Gen. Benedict Arnold's character traits as well as his relationships with George Washington and others that affected his successes and downfalls and ultimately led to his defection from the Continental to the British Army. Philbrick sympathetically explains but doesn't excuse the complicated factors resulting in Arnold's treason. He observes that initially the general was patriotic, loyal, trustworthy, and valued by Washington. His battlefield valor was impressive, but his impertinence engendered animosity from scornful, opportunistic officials. By 1779, starvation, mutiny, Washington's indecisiveness, and the combination of Congress's meddling and lack of support made America's outlook appear dismal. Philbrick argues, nonetheless, that his subject's impetuosity, arrogance, self-interest, and insolence, coupled with his financial distress and growing bitterness impelled him (with his wife's support) to sell secrets to the British. The general didn't consider himself a traitor but claimed that his defection supported the United States by hastening the return to normalcy. Philbrick believes that Arnold's actions vitalized the revolutionary spirit and helped create a mythical history of the period. VERDICT Philbrick weaves exciting accounts of Arnold's impulsive battlefield exploits with the activities of self-interested military and civil associates into the demythified story of the circumstances of a tragic betrayal. This page-turner will be valued by both casual readers and historians. [See Prepub Alert, 11/2/15]- Margaret -Kappanadze, Elmira Coll. Lib., NY © Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Publishers Weekly
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

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) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

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