Who Was Benedict Arnold? – by James Buckley, Jr., illustrated by Gregory Copeland


 Who Was Benedict Arnold? – by James Buckley, Jr., illustrated by Gregory Copeland. Penguin Workshop, 2020. 9780593222720

Format: Hardcover

Rating:  1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4

 Genre: biography

 What did you like about the book?  This is a straightforward biography of a very complicated figure in American history. Benedict Arnold was an adventurous child who became a businessman with questionable financial ethics, then went on to become a hero of the Revolutionary War and confidant of General George Washington, before retreating to the sidelines as the most well-known traitor in American history.  A gifted military strategist, Arnold led his soldiers to valiant victory at Ticonderoga and was badly wounded in battle at Saratoga; all the while he was at odds with the Continental Congress over misappropriation of funds and what he perceived to be a lack of respect (reflected in their reluctance to promote him to ranks he thought he deserved).  Following his injury at Saratoga, Washington appointed Arnold as military governor of Philadelphia, and it was there that he began his connection with Major John André, a British army officer who arranged to buy military secrets from Arnold.  While André was captured, tried and hanged by the Continental Army, Benedict Arnold was never brought to trial, living out his days in Canada and England, returning to his roots as a trader.

Arnold is carefully portrayed in this fact-packed book as a crafty and calculating man, in areas of family and business, as well as war.  The author takes pains to show Arnold’s good qualities and skills as well as provide possible motivation for his eventual betrayal of George Washington and the rising nation.  While making it clear that Arnold was flawed and made some serious errors in judgment, he leaves it somewhat to the reader to determine whether he was a dastardly villain or a somewhat misunderstood war hero (or more likely, somewhere between the two).  As with all entries in the series, fact boxes are included with additional information on such topics as the Sons of Liberty and Ethan Allen, as are parallel timelines of Arnold’s life and world history at that time bring context, and a list of further recommended reading.  

Anything you did not like about the book?  Younger readers would definitely need some background information on the colonial period and the Revolutionary War to put Arnold’s life in context

 To whom would you recommend this book? It’s definitely a good fit for fans of the Who Was series, particularly if they lean toward early American figures such as Washington, Hamilton, etc., and a welcome addition to 5th grade classroom and library collections where the time period is taught in social studies, particularly where biography projects may be required assignments.

Who should buy this book? Public and elementary school libraries

Where would you shelve it?  Biographies

 Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles?  no

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City:  Leigh Russell King, Lincoln Street School, Northborough, Massachusetts.

Date of review: 12/28/2020

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