When you hear the name Benedict Arnold what words comes to mind? You probably aren’t thinking war hero or military genius, but according to historian Steve Sheinken, that’s just what Benedict Arnold was until…Well, you’ll get the rest of the story when you read this marvelous nonfiction book The Notorious Benedict Arnold about the early life, high adventures, and the tragic end to an infamous icon.
The Story: The Early Years
He was a sixth generation Benedict Arnold born into a wealthy New Haven, Connecticut family in 1741. His father, Captain Arnold, owned a lucrative shipping business and the family enjoyed an elite lifestyle. Benedict, however, was an unruly child and difficult to control. He often got into trouble and refused to follow rules. Hoping he would learn respect and some discipline, his parents sent him away to a boarding school when he was eleven, but this did little to cure his wild ways.
Economic hardships turned the Arnold’s fortunes to ruin. His father’s shipping business suffered greatly and creditors were demanding their money. Arnold’s father was jailed for not paying his debts and he quickly turned to drinking. No longer able to afford the boarding school, Benedict’s mother had him return. Now a teenager the rebellious boy was humiliated when he had to deal publicly with his drunken father. A grim determination settled over Benedict who vowed to never be poor or suffer humiliation again. He focused his attention on learning business and become a successful tradesman himself. His ambition and reckless drive brought him great success and helped prepare him to become a fearless military man when he threw his support in favor of the American Revolution.
The Story: Military Success and Treason
Benedict Arnold did not like the British. He did not like the taxes imposed on his business. Headstrong and not always waiting for instruction, Arnold would organize his own militia and march into battle before Congress or even General Washington could intervene. He boldly engaged in what some soldiers called “chaotic combat” but always managed to come out of the battle successful. One British official commented on Arnold saying, “ I think he has shown himself the most enterprising and dangerous man among the rebels." (Roaring Book Press, 145). Arnold is credited with turning the tide of the American Revolution with his success at the Battle of Saratoga. However, problems started when Arnold felt he wasn’t getting the recognition he deserved. His pride and inability to get along with other military officers branded him a difficult and power hungry individual.
As Arnold began to feel unappreciated he turned his loyalties to the British and began a communication with high ranked British officer named John Andre. The treasonous plot between the two, if successful, would have changed the outcome of the American Revolution. A series of coincidental and perhaps fateful events resulted in revealing the dangerous plot and changing the course of history.
The Author: Steve Sheinkin
Steve Sheinkin is a textbook writer by profession with a long held interest in the story of Benedict Arnold. Admittedly obsessed with Benedict Arnold, Sheinkin spent years researching his life in order to write the adventurous tale. Writes Sheinkin, “I’m convinced it’s one of the best action/adventure tales in American History." (Roaring Book Press, 309).
Sheinkin has written several historical books for young readers including King George: What was His Problem? and Two Miserable Presidents. The Notorious Benedict Arnold is the 2012 winner of the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults and also recognized with the 2011 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Nonfiction. The book is also listed on School Library Journal’s Best Children’s Books of 2010and is on the Horn Book Magazine’s Fanfare List, Best of 2010. (Source: Macmillan)
My Recommendation: The Notorious Benedict Arnold
The Notorious Benedict Arnold is a nonfiction book that reads like an adventure novel. From his wild boyhood pranks to his manic battlefield heroics to the ultimate act that would brand him a notorious traitor, Benedict Arnold’s life was anything but dull. He was fearless, reckless, prideful, greedy, and one of George Washington’s favorite military leaders. The irony is that if Arnold had actually died while engaged in battle, it’s quite possible he’d have gone down in the history books as one of the heroes of the American Revolution, but instead his actions branded him a traitor.
This nonfiction read is extremely engaging and detailed. Sheinkin’s impeccable research weaves together a fascinating narrative of the life of a very interesting man. Using many resources including several primary documents such as journals, letters, and memoirs, Sheinkin recreates battle scenes and relationships that help readers understand the events leading up to Arnold’s decision to betray his country. Readers will be fascinated by this story that is a play by play account of events whose final outcome could have changed the course of American history.
Although the publisher recommends this nonfiction middle grade book for readers 11-14, I consider it a young adult book because of its mature themes of war, death, and betrayal. Sheinkin's book is a first rate example of in depth and credible research and is an excellent introduction on how to use primary documents when writing a research paper.(Roaring Book Press, 2011. ISBN: 9781596434868)