Monday, September 30, 2013

The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism & Treachery by Steve Sheinkin

This is my third Steve Sheinkin book and while I thought it was interesting I didn't get swept up in the story as much as his most recent books, "Bomb" and "Lincoln's Grave Robbers." Sheinkin does such a marvelous job describing places and characters by pulling in the senses and revealing internal changes in characters. Benedict Arnold's actions on the battlefield brought out the best in him; he was courageous, inspiring, and brave. Off the battlefield he had a ferocious temper, was materialistic, and had an inferiority complex that led to him betraying his country. Even the unwavering support of George Washington who worked diligently to give him credit for his actions in the war was not enough for him. Benedict Arnold believed that switching from the American to the British side during war would end the American Revolution and he would be seen as a hero by both sides. It is mind boggling that he did not think of himself as a traitor. His wife who had sympathies with the British seemed to have had a great influence on him and he also seemed to need money to live a wealthy lifestyle.He was not an idiot, so why he embraced this idiotic notion is one Sheinkin tackles quite well in his 300 page book.

I found the sections covering different battles interesting because they highlighted the contrast of Arnold's on and off-field behavior. He was obviously difficult to get along with but he was brave in battle. He craved attention and was a daredevil taking on assignments that no one else would because they were dangerous. When his troops were dealing with particular hardships he inspired and rallied them. Off the field he spent too much money, craved attention from the government, and felt mistreated by many he believed were jealous of his successes. While some were jealous, others had been mistreated by Arnold's wicked temper.

Sheinken reveals Arnold's earlier years growing up in a wealthy family with a father who was a successful ship Captain. When his dad lost his business, he became a drunk and disgrace to the family. This scarred Arnold in a way that makes the reader see why he never seemed to get enough attention and why he was angry and insecure even when he should not have been. Sheinken also follows the story of John Andre, the British soldier hanged by the Americans for spying on the British. His is a tragic tale that reminded me of Nathan Hale, the American soldier hanged by the British for spying on the Americans. The subplot of Andre is so strange and full of what-if's that it makes for a fascinating read.

I did lose interest a bit during the section when Arnold was governor. Of course, he was making bad choices left and right. What was fascinating was George Washington's belief in Arnold and his attempt to show gratitude for what Arnold had done for the country, but Arnold could not get enough attention. Washington went out of his way to support Arnold and even showed his trust by letting him command West Point. Why Arnold turned on him shows how twisted his mind was and how angry he was at the government's court-Marshall.

Obviously historical writers can't cover everything in history. I enjoy coming across other people and places that I want to research more on my own. I was intrigued by the Native Americans helping the Americans and the British. One was the female Jacataqua, an Abenaki Indian, who guided the Americans on a treacherous journey into Canada. Most of the men died on that trip because of the harsh conditions. Another mention of the Mohawk Indians helping the British piqued my interest. Last, but not least, was the larger-than-life Daniel Morgan. His exploits in war bordered the fantastical. The end has plenty of "Source Notes" for me to research on my own. Enjoy this read!

4 Smileys
Young Adult

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