Nathaniel Philbrick is a creative historian who often provides new approaches to old story lines.

His recent book is "Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold and the Fate of the American Revolution."

It's a provocative tale because it explains why Arnold became THE great traitor in U.S. history.

The reasons include the fact that Arnold was hounded by military rivals to the point of court martial; beset by money problems; influenced by his young headstrong bride; and proud to a fault.

Philbrick suggests he was a daring, capable general much like Washington but one who made bad decisions because of an uncontrolled ego.

Philbrick writes out of Nantucket but has never come to the Newburyport Literary Festival. Still, he is among the most successful popular historians of the day.

He is the Michael Lewis of history, to wit, Philbrick finds great stories in material that scores of others have missed.

Lewis is like that in journalism: he found heroes in football, "The Blind Side," genius in baseball, "Moneyball," and brilliant rogues in "The Big Short."

Benedict Arnold is known to Newburyport, of course.

In 1775 he and a band of colonists encamped here for several days before trying to reach and invade Quebec.

That foray failed but Arnold was a tenacious guy.

He continued as one of Washington's great generals - until he wasn't.

"Valiant Ambition" is based on many revealing diaries, and it depicts wonderfully human characters.

Philbrick achieves a goal that is so tough to reach: He makes history come alive.

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