Valiant Ambition

Title:                     Valiant Ambition

Author:                Nathaniel Philbrick

Philbrick, Nathaniel (2016). Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution. New York: Viking

LCCN:    2016303785

E206 .P48 2016b


  • 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.


  • Preface: The fault line — Part I: The wilderness of untried things. Demons of fear and disorder ; The mosquito fleet ; A cabinet of fortitude ; The year of the hangman ; The dark eagle ; Saratoga — Part II: Secret motives and designs. The bite of a rattlesnake ; The knight of the burning mountain ; Unmerciful fangs ; The chasm ; The pangs of a dying man ; The crash ; No time for remorse — Epilogue: A nation of traitors.


Date Posted:      October 28, 2016

Reviewed in The Intelligencer[1]

Account of the middle years of the American Revolution and the tragic relationship between George Washington and Benedict Arnold. Soon to be a Ron Howard-directed movie starring Chris Hemsworth.

[1] The Intelligencer: Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies (22, 2, Spring 2016, p. 140).

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