Everyone knows the the name, but how well-known is the story? Above all, The Notorious Benedict Arnold is an excellently crafted and remarkably compelling story of one man’s hubris.
Reading Steve Sheinkin’s historical non-fiction volume uncovers Arnold as an undeniable hero of the American Revolution. His audacity, skill, and considerable luck all converge to make him an extraordinary military force in the early days of America’s revolt. His initial mission to Fort Ticonderoga alone is an adventure story worthy of its own treatment. Yet that is only the beginning of the dramatic wake that cast by Arnold’s meteoric rise and ignominious fall.
While considered a young adult title, this book transcends that label on a number of levels. It reads like a novel, includes first-person accounts, and is well resourced. Perhaps Sheinkin’s greatest feat is his successful portrayal of Arnold as a sympathetic, albeit severely flawed individual. No doubt, Arnold was not always recognized or treated fairly in a highly politically charged climate. What’s more it was his capacity to hold grudges and feel scorned that led to his undoing. Still, Sheinkin certainly makes the case for his being the subject of a great story and an even greater fall.
While Arnold invited a lot of his own trouble, that only serves to make him even more interesting and compelling. To say Arnold lived a full life is understatement. Even the melodrama of his ultimate unraveling, missing his most ardent supporter, George Washington, by mere minutes makes for a fantastic story alone, and Sheinkin relates it with relish. Even the aftermath of Arnold’s betrayal draws a degree of sympathy, making him all the more powerful as a cautionary tale.
Although I typically like historical non-fiction generally, as well as biographies, I enjoyed this book even more than I expected. It was a fascinating view into a historical figure that everyone knows but doesn’t know much about. Ultimately, Sheinkin squeezes out the formalities and dogma of historical writing in favor of action, adventure, and ripping good yarn, a major factor in it being considered a young adult title, but it makes it all the more readable and enjoyable.