Magazine August 15, 2016, Issue

The Seduction of Benedict Arnold

Benedict Arnold (Stock Montage/Getty)
Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution, by Nathaniel Philbrick (Viking, 448 pp., $30)

Just about the only thing most Americans know about Benedict Arnold is that he was a traitor, the turncoat par excellence of America’s founding. Today, his name is synonymous with “traitor.”

Beyond that, we tend to know as little about Arnold as we do about the rest of the American Revolution. To the extent that it is still taught in schools, the War of Independence is presented as a rather tidy affair. The Founders issued the Declaration of Independence, George Washington and his army spent a hard winter at Valley Forge and then crossed the Delaware, there was an exchange of

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