Friday, February 18, 2011

The Notorious Benedict Arnold

The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism, & Treachery
by Steve Sheinkin
352 pages
published by Flash Point
/Roaring Brook Press

Publisher's description:

Most people know that Benedict Arnold was America’s first, most notorious traitor. Few know that he was also one of its greatest war heroes. This accessible biography introduces young readers to the real Arnold: reckless, heroic, and driven. Packed with first-person accounts, astonishing battle scenes, and surprising twists, this is a gripping and true adventure tale.

My comments:

Benedict Arnold is the most famous traitor in American history, but once he was one of Washington's most trusted generals. This fascinating book details his rise and fall, including the political slights and money woes that may have motivated him.

This well-researched, well-written account of Benedict Arnold's life reads like an adventure novel. A flash-forward at the very beginning vividly describes an execution, but who's execution is it? I like the element of suspense that this trickery adds to the narrative. Sheinkin then turns back to Arnold's birth and lets the story flow chronologically through his life. It seems inconceivable that the dedicated (albeit hotheaded) patriot who led assaults on Fort Ticonderoga and Montreal would later turn on his country, but as slights and debts pile up

The design of the book (especially the cover art and dimensions) makes it look like a novel, which helps it stand out from the coffee table style books that are popular in YA nonfiction right now. Other than one portrait of Arnold at the end, the only illustrations are maps. The maps by Lazslo Kubinyi are very well done, and I referred to them often as I read. The short chapters include date ranges along with the titles, making it easier to place all the events chronologically.

Sheinkin admits to an Arnold obsession, and his passion shows not just in the writing, but in the extensive source notes and quote notes that are appended. I might have a hard time swallowing the quotes that Sheinkin attributes to the players in Arnold's drama, if he didn't have these sources (including several firsthand accounts) to back him up. I appreciate that the sources are arranged by category and the quote notes by chapter. There's also an index, which is handy for looking up specific people, places, battles and ships.

I knew very little about Benedict Arnold (other than he was a traitor) going into this book, and by the end Sheinkin had succeeded in making me interested in visiting the Revolutionary battlefields where he left his mark.