This well-researched, well-written account of Benedict Arnold’s life reads like an adventure novel. A flash-forward at the very beginning vividly describes an execution, but whose execution is it? This trickery adds a wonderful element of suspense to the narrative. Sheinkin then turns back to Arnold’s birth and lets the story flow chronologically through his life. It seemed inconceivable at first that the dedicated (albeit hotheaded) patriot who led assaults on Fort Ticonderoga and Montreal would ever turn on his country, but as slights and debts piled up I began to see how a generous offer from the British might sway him.
The cover design makes it look like a novel, which helps it stand out from the majority of YA nonfiction. Other than one portrait of Arnold at the end, the only illustrations are maps by Lazslo Kubinyi. These are very well done, and I referred to them often as I read. The short chapters include date ranges along with the titles, making it easy to place all the events in Arnold’s life chronologically.
Sheinkin admits to an Arnold obsession, and his passion shows not just in the writing, but in the extensive source notes and quote notes that are appended. I might have a hard time swallowing the quotes that Sheinkin attributes to the players in Arnold’s drama, if he didn’t have these sources (including several firsthand accounts) to back him up. I appreciate that the sources are arranged by category and the quote notes by chapter. There’s also an index, which is handy for looking up specific people, places, battles and ships.
I knew very little about Benedict Arnold (other than he was a traitor) going into this book, and by the end Sheinkin had succeeded in making me interested in visiting the Revolutionary battlefields where he left his mark.