Total Pageviews

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Notorious Bendict Arnold, written by Steve Sheinkin. Square Fish, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2010. $10.99 ages 12 and up

"Behind the band marched the prisoner. He wore a spotless officer's uniform, his long hair pulled back and tied neatly behind his neck. When he reached the clearing he saw the gallows and stopped. The color drained from his skin. He swallowed, making a visibly painful effort to force the saliva down his throat. Then he began marching again, walking steadily toward his death."

This quote comes at the beginning of the book when John Andre comes face to face with death for his part in the plot with Arnold to turn West Point over to the British. It is only one small part of this aptly sub-titled  True Story of Adventure, Heroism and Treachery. What happens in this fast paced biography reads like adventure of the highest order, and only serves to boost my admiration for Steve Sheinken's writing prowess. His years-long fascination with Benedict Arnold, and the abundance of research that he did in order to be able to tell it dramatically and in such an engaging manner is testament to his persistence and incredible talent.

This Benedict came from a long line of Benedict Arnolds, born into a wealthy Connecticut family. He was not an easy child. He lacked control and made life difficult for that family. So, he was sent away to boarding school in an attempt to have him change those ways. It had no real effect on his behavior.  When the family business failed, Benedict's father went to jail for his inability to pay his debtors and turned to alcohol to ease his troubles. Boarding school was no longer an option for his wild and unmanageable son. Benedict's return home and his family's disgrace set him on a course of education that would assure he would never feel so humiliated or vulnerable again.

He found success despite his reckless ways, and that held him in good stead for serving his country during the American Revolution. He had a great dislike for British rule and set out to guide his men against British strongholds, often of his own volition and with no acknowledgement of greater governmental power. He was dangerous and a tough opponent, always eager to lead the next rout. He is credited with success at the Battle of Saratoga, a turning point in the war with Britain. He was greatly concerned that he was not getting the accolades he felt that he so richly deserved and he became even more difficult.

Feeling that George Washington and his minions were underestimating his value, he turned to John Andre, a highly ranked British officer. He plotted with him to overthrow the American effort and might have succeeded had not a series of unfortunate events led to Andre's arrest. Up until that moment he was seen as a hero and a man whose work should have been celebrated for his courage and bravado in light of braving extremely difficult conditions to help the American effort. The bungled plot, and Benedict Arnold's duplicity in it led to his living the rest of his life in England and Canada, a disgraced and dishonorable man:

"All the while a never-ending parade of rumors and nasty newspaper articles followed Arnold - the recurring theme was the charge that lust for money had been his only motivation for changing sides."  

Once started, I could rarely stop reading this book (sleep was the only deterrent). Benedict Arnold was able to accomplish all that he did with a fearless disregard for his own safety, or the consequences of his rash actions. He was a hero, but he cultivated enemies in his headlong, headstrong quest for success and power. Great characters, impeccable research and powerful storytelling make him a man I will not soon forget! 

No comments:

Post a Comment