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Award-winning author Nathaniel Philbrick sat down to talk about his new book In the Hurricane’s Eye: The Genius of George Washington and the Victory at Yorktown.

This is Philbrick’s third book in his American Revolution series and tells the story of the year leading up to the siege of Yorktown. The book focuses on the naval battle no Americans fought in that made victory at Yorktown possible.

What is your book, In the Hurricane’s Eye: The Genius of George Washington and the Victory at Yorktown about? 

The book tells an unappreciated story, in that there was the siege of Yorktown, the victory that lead to our independence, but before that, there was a naval battle fought off the entrance of the Chesapeake.


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Why did you focus on this aspect of the Revolutionary War?

I knew that there was a naval battle fought between the British and the French that really created the circumstance that made the victory at Yorktown possible. No Americans participated. This is not the narrative most of us associate with how we won our freedom in the American Revolution.

What role did Washington play in the battle of the Chesapeake?

When you go through that year, you can understand Washington’s frustrations and why he wanted other things to happen. And really, I think his true brilliance was when he realized, ok this is not going to go the way I wanted, they are not going to come to New York. Ok, how are we going to make this happen? And he threw all of his energies into that in a way that is fascinating and really thrilling to watch unfold.


What can we learn about leadership from George Washington?

What he had was vision, patience, and an incredible work ethic. There was no one who could outwork Washington.

What was Washington’s relationship with the French?

The French high command was concerned that the American Revolution was about to fall apart. They wanted to see what was going to happen and they also wanted to keep control of things. Washington was nominally the Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Army, but Rochambeau and the French government played their cards very close to the vest. 

What importance did water play in the Revolutionary War?

The buried theme of the Revolution is water. Washington was familiar with the water and realized its importance. He was not an admiral in any way, and when asked he said I don’t know naval affairs, but what he did understand was strategy and the importance of the water.

Was the French Navy stronger than the British Navy?

The French Navy had really made an effort to improve its ships and particularly its officers and had come up with whole systems that the British didn’t have. This is a different French Navy. The French win the Battle of the Chesapeake, which is a great victory, but it really didn’t do much for them because then there is the Battle of the Saints. 

Nathaniel Philbrick was awarded the George Washington Book Prize for his book Valiant Ambition.

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