Joyce Lee Malcolm knows this story, and yet she has embraced the thankless, if not Sisyphean, task of contextualizing America’s first traitor ... [George] Washington and Arnold were different, to be sure, but Malcolm enables readers to see the very real similarities between the two men ... The Tragedy of Benedict Arnold benefits from Russell Lea’s collection of Arnold’s war correspondence, published in 2008, and a relatively recent discovery of a cache of primary sources in Quebec. Malcolm has written a fine biography—the best in recent memory, in fact. But what Arnold really needs now is a miracle.
Joyce Lee Malcolm describes 'the most infamous man in American history' as a two-dimensional caricature in the minds of most Americans ... that...deserves a fuller consideration, though not necessarily an exculpatory one ... The Tragedy of Benedict Arnold does show that Arnold’s hunger for recognition and refusal to compromise embroiled him in conflicts that weakened his commitment to independence ... Ms. Malcolm, a historian at George Mason University’s law school, describes how tensions between George Washington and the Continental Congress, whose members had adopted this wary civilian view of the military, fueled ever greater discontent within the Continental Army. With low pay and poor supplies compounding the problem, many officers resigned. Ms. Malcolm suggests that Arnold—helped along by his prickly personality and the trauma of a crippling wound—reacted by switching sides.
Malcolm does for Benedict Arnold what Ron Chernow did for Alexander Hamilton, reexamining and redeeming a complex historical figure. Though Malcolm’s tome is not as lengthy as Chernow’s, she does an excellent job of transforming American history’s best-known villain into a war hero who loved his country so much that he gave his heart, soul, and body to the American cause during the Revolutionary War ... This adventurous, entertaining read will appeal to a broad audience, and book clubs will thoroughly enjoy this game-changer, a multilayered reassessment of a long misunderstood American.