If we wanted to make a list of the most notorious traitors in history, who would top the list? Probably Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. But Benedict Arnold would be right up there with Judas. History has taught us that Arnold was the guy who sold out his fellow Americans by abandoning his duty as a general in the Continental Army and working with the British to defeat the colonists.
But Nathaniel Philbrick gives us a different perspective on Arnold in his book “Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold and the Fate of the American Revolution.” Philbrick tell us that Arnold’s motivations for deserting were part of a larger untold story about the dark side to the American Revolution. He describes the political infighting, jockeying for power and McCarthy-like witch hunts to identify disloyal Americans that began turning neighbor against neighbor even as the patriots’ fight against the British unfolded.
Philbrick tell his story through the contrasting trajectories of two careers forged by the revolution: George Washington, who became one of America’s greatest heroes, and Arnold, whose name became synonymous with treachery and betrayal.
Philbrick is one of our best-known authors of non-fiction; he won the 2000 National Book Award for “In the Heart of the Sea,” the true story of the doomed whaling voyage that became the inspiration for “Moby Dick.” His book “Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War” was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in non-fiction in 2007.
Here is The New York Times review of “Valiant Ambition.”