Compass

Reviews

Valiant Ambition is a suspenseful, vivid, richly detailed, and deeply researched book about the revolutionary struggle that bound George Washington and Benedict Arnold together and about the almost disastrous dysfunction of America’s revolutionary government that helped drive them apart, serving as a pretext for Arnold’s dastardly
betrayal—his conspiracy to surrender the American fortress at West Point to the British.”
—New York Review of Books

Valiant Ambition 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, arguing that what is taught in schools consists of the facts, but not the broader truth. And so Philbrick, who previously has broken new historical ground with landmark books on the Plymouth Pilgrims and the Little Big Horn combatants, asks: What if Benedict Arnold’s treason was not an act that split the nation but instead was the glue that bound it together and saved it?”
–Boston Globe

“Clear and insightful, it consolidates [Philbrick’s] reputation as one of Americas foremost practitioners of narrative nonfiction.”
The Wall Street Journal

“Benedict Arnold takes center stage in Nathaniel Philbrick’s vivid and in some ways cautionary tale of the Revolutionary War. The near-tragic nature of the drama hinges not on any military secrets Arnold gave to the British but on an open secret: the weakness of the patriot cause….Arnold’s betrayal still makes for great drama, proving once again that the supposed villains of a story are usually the most interesting.”
New York Times Book Review

“Philbrick has the ability to take seemingly dry facts of history and turn them into exciting prose. The players come alive and their motivations are clear. The people he chronicles are legends, so revealing to the reader what makes them human, foibles and all, helps make sense of the events that transpired and why they acted the way they did.”
The Associated Press

“This is history at its most compelling: political machinations, military jostling and outright treachery. And Philbrick’s vivid writing brings the whistling cannon balls and half-frozen soldiers to life (and death) in vivid detail…Philbrick takes on that very task of “undeceiving” and peels back the mythology to reveal a teetering war effort, a bickering Congress, discordant states unwilling to coalesce to support the new national government and — above all — a traitor who sought to sell out his own country for personal gain and achieved instead the one thing that no other revolutionary could: a unification of the Americans and an end to the war. And for that, we have much to thank Benedict Arnold.”
Seattle Times

“An engrossing narrative of the war’s most difficult years… Philbrick argues that the quarrelsome, divided Americans needed Arnold’s perfidy as much as they did Washington’s greatness to unify their new nation. He pushes aside the patriotic myth to unveil the war’s messy reality—and it’s still a rousing adventure.”
–BookPage

“A compulsively readable and fascinating narrative . . . 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 . . Philbrick’s deep scholarship, nuanced analysis, and novelistic storytelling add up to another triumph.”
—Publishers Weekly (Starred review)

“Solid popular history . . . A lively account of our Revolution’s most reviled figure.”
Kirkus

“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.”
Library Journal

Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution is a book for the moment, though it trawls so languidly in the past, when, not unlike today, the nation’s future could not have seemed less certain. The dense details are mastered, typically, by Philbrick, whose National Book Award-winning history, In the Heart of the Sea, gave us the story behind the story of Moby-Dick. No less a whale of a tale, Valiant Ambition colorfully reconstructs the character-driven battles that defined the Revolutionary War.
USA Today (***½ out of four stars)

“Nathaniel Philbrick knows how to tell a good tale. In Valiant Ambition, he tells not one but three of them… Philbrick’s reading of these two men is nuanced and absorbing, but it is his revisionist portrait of Maj. John André that makes this book an important one.”
Washington Post

“Philbrick is both a meticulous historian and a captivating storyteller. The book has unforgettable novelistic details… But Valiant Ambition also contains much astute historical analysis and argument.”
The Christian Science Monitor

“Philbrick’s interpretation of these two legendary figures of American history is the opposite of the account I was taught in high school. I appreciate the author’s more balanced view of the contributions the two protagonists made to the founding of the United States. Philbrick’s research and analysis are quite remarkable. This book is a thought-provoking read for historians and leisure readers.”
The Missourian

“In the final analysis, Valiant Ambition adds to Philbrick’s laurels as one of this country’s premier historians. His account of the middle years of the American Revolution is a tour de force, popular history at its best.”
Army Magazine

“No contemporary author is better suited to reintroduce readers to this high drama than Nathaniel Philbrick. Author of the award-winning books Mayflower and In the Heart of the Sea, Philbrick has a knack for cinematic depictions and dramatic pacing, and he uses these to great effect in his new book.”
National Review

“Nathaniel Philbrick has crafted a masterful story of how Arnold’s treason actually galvanized support for George Washington and infused enough energy into the conflict to tip the balance in favor of the Americans.”
Charleston Post and Courier

 

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