Review by Choice Review
Benedict Arnold is most often viewed as the traitor of the American Revolution. However, Brandt argues that this interpretation is an unnecessarily simplistic evaluation of a man who might better be regarded as the antihero of that conflict. Born into a nonfunctional middle-class Connecticut family, young Arnold learned to associate success with material prosperity. Brandt concludes that Arnold became more aggressive and self-centered when he joined the revolutionary war effort. His attack on Quebec and the successful naval operation to prevent a Canadian-based British invasion of New York made Arnold a public hero, acclaimed as the "Genius of War." Wounded and inactive for 18 months, he was passed over for promotion in favor of lesser generals. When he did not receive a desired command from General Washington, Arnold, the convalescent, married the beautiful Peggy Shippen of Philadelphia; the couple conspired to join the British war effort in return for wealth and privilege. Taking high risks and largely oblivious to the consequences, Arnold rationalized his treachery into self-serving action and thus suffered the ignominy of becoming a traitor. Brandt traces the unhappy lives of the Arnolds when they removed to London, New Brunswick, and back to England where the general died, unloved and unmourned by the English or Americans. Maps. All levels. J. D. Born Jr.; Wichita State University
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Brandt ( An American Aristocracy: The Livingstons ) convincingly portrays notorious colonial turncoat Arnold's (1741-1801) actions as the result of numerous insecurities, slights and ambitions. Though her psychologizing is at times overwrought, Brandt's lively account is multidimensional, based on a wealth of sources. She traces how young Arnold's hopes for a college education were dashed by his alcoholic father, and how as a New Haven, Conn., entrepreneur he craved wealth as a sign of his worth. Arnold continually battled his inner demons--as a militia officer arguing with rivals, as an ambitious soldier bereft of his dead wife, as a hero who saved his country from the British fleet but made numerous enemies among his compatriots and in congress. Stung by court-martial charges, Arnold turned to the British, but his plot to deliver the West Point garrison failed. Stripped of his image as ``Patriot-Hero,'' Arnold concocted rationalizations for his treachery and arguments for British military strategy. But his plans to restore his reputation went awry, and, intending only to visit England in 1792, he stayed there until his death. Illustrations not seen by PW. Author tour. (Jan.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review
A biography that explains coherently--despite its rather thick layer of pop psych--why Benedict Arnold became the American Revolution's Lucifer, the brightest angel who suffered the steepest fall from grace. Colonial historian Brandt (An American Aristocracy, 1986) locates the seed of Arnold's treason in ``the great American virus: social insecurity.'' In his teens, Arnold was forced to leave an elite private academy because of his alcoholic father's bankruptcy. Brandt's prose can rise to an almost hysterically portentous pitch (Arnold ``teetered on the brink of an inner abyss that had been gouged in his soul by the earthquake that had struck''), but despite a lack of subtlety in characterization, her thesis enables her to identify ambition as the connecting thread between Arnold as energetic, intelligent, and courageous soldier and Arnold as greedy traitor. Notoriously touchy about the most dimly perceived slights, Arnold could take no solace in his reputation as the best American battlefield general of the war. Lacking a moral compass, he saw money and social prestige as his surest validations of character- -and, when these were lacking, he alienated potential allies with petulant outbursts. His downfall began when, as military commandant of Philadelphia, he mixed with well-heeled Loyalists (including his future wife, the beautiful Peggy Shippen) and engaged in war profiteering. Brandt takes us through the familiar events that followed: Arnold's court-martial for financial malfeasance, his bungled attempt to hand over West Point to the British, and his final years as a financially insecure social leper in Canada and England. Despite Arnold's ``mighty heart,'' he was brought down by self-delusion and a reckless unconcern for any but himself (he sealed Major John Andre's doom by needlessly sending him behind Continental lines disguised as a civilian). Piercing insights into one of our most infamous figures, though no match for Willard Sterne Randall's superb Benedict Arnold (1990). (Maps and b&w illustrations--not seen)
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