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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Book Review: An Artist in Treason

Book Review: An Artist in Treason

This is my review of "An Artist in Treason" by Andro Linklater with a subtitle that may set a modern day record: 'The Extraordinary Double Life of General James Wilkinson, Commander in Chief of the U.S. Army and Agent 13 in the Spanish Secret Service.'

The subtitle really tells it all. Though he betrayed (some of) America's strategic secrets, sought to keep the new country from expanding beyond the Mississippi, and almost delivered Lewis and Clark's expedition into Spanish hands, four presidents {some might say the most important four, since they were the first four} - Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison - all turned a blind eye to his treachery. In the end, in the crucial test in 1806, Wilkinson did, at the last minute, turn the army against Aaron Burr and foiled his conspiracy to break up the Union.

Linklater adds documentation from Spanish archives unseen by prior historians further illuminate this distinctive character in American history.

I enjoyed reading this book very much. Wilkinson was born in Maryland, the state of one of my ancestors lines that I have studied the most. He has been a side character in many, many of the books I have read in recent years - portrayed in many different lights. Each of these angles was explored well by Linklater in this book. I felt that his treatment was very evenhanded. Although I certainly cannot condone many of his actions, this book provided me with a much better understanding of the circumstances he faced as he made the decisions he made - usually under very difficult and trying decisions. As a military man, he was often put in lose-lose situations, sometimes on purpose, by either his military or civilian superiors, even both, on occasion. As with a number of his contemporaries among the founding and next generation, personal vanity often did play an over-sized role in his decision making - leading to many, if not most, of his many problems - personal and professional. This story also sheds illuminating light on many of the other 'historical' characters with whom he interacted through his career.

Happy Reading!  ;-)

Bill  ;-)

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