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Bob Keyes

Bob Keyes has written about the arts in Maine since 2002. He’s never been much an artist himself, other than singing in junior high school chorus and acting in a few musicals. But he’s attended museums, theaters, clubs and concert halls all his life, and cites Bob Dylan as most influential artist of any kind since Picasso. He lives in Berwick.

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Posted: June 18, 2018

Historian Nathaniel Philbrick begins his Maine talking tour in Kennebunkport

Written by: Bob Keyes

Nathaniel Phlibrook
Photo by Kit Noble, courtesy of Penquin/Random House

The best-selling writer Nathaniel Philbrick will talk about history, heroes and honor when he comes to Maine next week for a talking tour that begins at 5 p.m. June 28 at the Kennebunk River Club. He’s also speaking June 29 at the Strand Theatre in Rockland and will greet fans and sign books June 30 at Left Bank Books in Belfast.

“I am going on a research trip to Nova Scotia and had gotten several requests to speak in Maine,” Philbrick said by phone from his home in Nantucket, Massachusetts. “It all just sort of fell into place, and I am really happy it’s working out.”

Philbrick is familiar with Maine. He and his wife, Melissa, own a home in Andover, and he’s sailed Penobscot Bay much of his life. And he’s written about Maine history quite a bit in the course of his career.

His talking tour begins in Kennebunkport on Thursday. Hosted by the Louis T. Graves Memorial Library, the annual Author Talk is a fundraiser for the library, which raises more than half of its $300,000 budget on its own. The talk by a prominent author is a big part of the fundraising equation, said library director Mary-Lou Boucouvalas. Historians always draw a good crowd, she said, noting that past speakers have included David McCullough, William Martin, David Oshinsky and Mark Updegrove.

Philbrick specializes in New England history and will talk about his latest book, “Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution.” The book details the middle years of the Revolution and focuses on Arnold and his expedition up the Kennebec River for an invasion of Quebec in 1775. Philbrick researched Arnold’s trip and followed his trail through Maine and into Quebec.

Battle-tested, Arnold earned George Washington’s utmost respect and confidence, then defected from the Continental Army to join the British in 1780. Philbrick called him “one of the most fascinating characters in American history,” and said Arnold’s expedition through Maine and into Quebec “was really an amazing accomplishment and won him the reputation as an American Hannibal.”

Philbrick also likely will talk about his next book, “In the Hurricane’s Eye,” due out in October, about the final years of the Revolutionary War and all that Washington had to overcome, including the defection of Arnold. He called Washington a great leader and said, “I have a hard time labeling people heroes given the nature of humanity. But as far as I am concerned, George Washington is as close to a hero this country has produced.”

Washington emerged as a leader because he was able to rise about the politics of his time to defeat a more powerful enemy army, and then direct a new nation through its infancy. After the war and after he was elected the country’s first president, Washington embarked on a horse-and-carriage journey with a goal of visiting each state. Washington made it as far north as Portsmouth, New Hampshire, but never crossed the river into what is now Maine. It was part of Massachusetts at the time.

“He got to Portsmouth and he hoped to go to Vermont, which was not yet a state but on the verge of becoming one. But it was November, and it started to snow. The weather convinced him it was time to head south,” Philbrick said.

Nathaniel Philbrick

WHEN: 5 p.m. June 28
WHERE: Kennebunk River Club, 116 Ocean Ave., Kennebunkport
HOW MUCH: $40
INFO: graveslibrary.org or (207) 967-2778

ALSO: Philbrick will speak at 5:30 p.m. June 29 at the Strand Theatre in Rockland; $30; knoxmuseum.org; and he will sign books from noon to 2 p.m. June 30 at Left Bank Books, 109 Church St., Belfast.

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