Thoughts on books, often interpreted through the high-brow prism of cartoon (read: Archer) references. Wait! I had something for this...
If you’re wandering around Saratoga National Park, you might come across an odd sculpture of a boot/leg with a cryptic dedication:
In memory of the "most brilliant soldier" of the Continental Army who was desperately wounded on this spot the sally port of BORGOYNES GREAT WESTERN REDOUBT 7th October, 1777 winning for his countrymen the decisive battle of the American Revolution and for himself the rank of Major General.
You might think that it was some sort of twisted riff on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, but you would be wrong. This disembodied limb belonged to none other than The Notorious Benedict Arnold.
But, of course, I’m getting ahead of myself! First, allow me to point out something I failed to notice before diving in, which is that this book is YA non-fiction. It’s no big secret, and isn’t a bad thing. I just got over enthusiastic about the life of BA after reading a review of Washington’s Spies (thanks a lot Jeffrey!), and a few clicks later was listening away. So, I’ll try my best to judge this book with its target audience in mind.
The eponymous Benedict Arnold was actually the sixth to bear his name. The first one was alternately president and governor of the Colony of Rhode Island, while the fifth was an older brother who died as an infant, and I guess his parents just really wanted to carry on that name.
Young Benedict was a bit of a prankster with a flare for the dramatic, especially when it would turn heads in his direction. This was all well and good (though perhaps a bit dangerous) when he was performing disappearing acts on the struts of the town mill wheel, but took a darker turn when he was at boarding school parading atop a barn that had, somehow, burst into flames.
With revolution in the air, Benedict found an outlet for his swashbuckling penchant for derring-do, and joined up with the Continental Army with the outbreak of war in 1775. After clearing up the siege of Boston, Arnold (who was always good at taking initiative), suggested that they might consider seizing Fort Ticonderoga, which went splendidly (though some of the credit goes to Ethan Allen).
If there was ever a man who sought external approval from “Army” (often shown through awards such as a seal for marksmanship and/or a gorilla for sand racing), it was Benedict Arnold. I don’t know if it was a case of mommy/daddy issues or what, but when overlooked by superiors for promotions and the like, Arnold had a tendency act quite the petulant child and also do kind of crazy things- for example, invade the Socialist Republic of Canada.*
I’ve been through the mountains of Maine and the Kennebec river in the relatively cushy summer months, so I speak with some authority when I say that marching/portaging an army from Boston to Quebec with winter on the way, is kind of a death wish. And, for a few hundred of the troops, I’d be spot on. Here’s the thing, results aside, Benedict was basically doing things this way because he didn't get to be Agent in Command (or Captain-Colonel, or Obermeisterführer or whatever) of the first expedition to Canada (an honor that went to Allen).
This cycle of acts of valor, lack of recognition and resultant pouting becomes a bit of "a thing" for Arnold. And, of course, therein lies his downfall. Arnold had legitimate grievances, but he also needed to take a break and count to ten before making any decisions about whether or not to betray his country. This is where my rating might be a bit higher with the "young adult" market in mind. Author Steve Sheinkin drives home the point (as illustrated by the Saratoga monument) that, were it not for his last traitorous act, Benedict Arnold would have been a hero in the eyes of history.
If only someone had reminded Arnold that no one likes a tattle-tale before he crossed the proverbial Rubicon, he may have made different choices. Traitors, it turns out, do not get a hero's welcome on either side of the pond. Bummer Benedict!
* Not a real thing.