Synopses & Reviews
For almost two decades, through the War of 1812, James Wilkinson was the senior general in the United States Army. Amazingly, he was also Agent 13 in the Spanish secret service at a time when Spain's empire dominated North America. Wilkinson's audacious career as a double agent is all the more remarkable because it was an open secret, circulated regularly in newspapers and pamphlets. His saga illuminates just how fragile and vulnerable the young republic was: No fewer than our first four presidents turned a blind eye to his treachery and gambled that the mercurial general would never betray the army itself and use it too overthrow the nascent union—a faith that was ultimately rewarded.
“Wilkinson may be the most unscrupulous character in all of American history…This biography of Wilkinson, who, writes Linklater, had ‘one of the most extraordinary careers as a secret agent in the history of espionage, is probably the best we have; it certainly is the most smoothly written.”—The New York Review of Books
“[A] gripping biography.”—Boston Globe
“Andro Linklater combed Spanish, British and American records to tell this complex story in fascinating…detail.”—Associated Press
“What makes this tautly written narrative so timely is that it reminds us that the myth of American Manifest Destiny and the virtuous inevitability of our sway over a continent is just so much hogwash…Author Andro Linklater makes a telling judgment about how this most powerful military figure of his day engaged for almost a quarter-century in spying for Spain while at the same time plotting with an almost unending cast of questionable characters in a series of plots to sever much of what later was known as the Louisiana Purchase from the United States, or alternatively to seize Mexico, or perhaps become president of the United States himself…One comes away from this meticulously researched, well-written book with an unintended reconsideration of Benedict Arnold as America's worst traitor.”—Washington Times
“The Scottish-born Linklater (Measuring America ) presents an intricate but accessible biography of James Wilkinson, one of the more enigmatic, controversial, and polarizing figures in early American history. Relying heavily on primary sources, especially Wilkinson's published memoirs and unpublished correspondence, Linklater reveals how and why this ambitious and talented young Continental Army general became a spy for the Spanish Empire and collaborated on a western separatist movement with Aaron Burr, whom he eventually betrayed by revealing Burr's plans. The author repeatedly compares Wilkinson's written defenses of his actions with documentary evidence of treason, convincingly arguing that Wilkinson, as described by one of his many enemies, had a "habitual distaste for honesty" but possessed the charisma, cunning, and intelligence needed to live a double life that fooled America's first four presidents. Wilkinson frequently put America at risk by revealing military strategies and secrets to his Spanish handlers, but, as Linklater shows, his duplicity ultimately failed to deter the growth of a fragile young nation. VERDICT This fascinating and richly detailed book is a useful resource for studying America's early struggles with internal interference and external opposition. A fine choice for undergraduates and informed lay readers.”—Library Journal
“Anyone with a taste for charming, talented, complex, troubled, duplicitous and needy historical figures will savor this book. A Revolutionary War general at age 20, James Wilkinson (1757-1825), whom few now have heard of, knew everyone of consequence in the early nation, from Washington on down. But he squandered his gifts in repeated and apparently uncontrollable double dealing, betrayals (he spied for Spain), conspiracies and dishonesty in the decades following the war. Wilkinson seemed to pop up everywhere, always trying to make a deal and feather his nest. To those ends, he would as soon turn on those whom he had pledged to help as be traitor to the army he served. The only man he remained true to was Jefferson, who in the end spurned him. No one trusted him, as no one should have. Linklater (Measuring America) skillfully captures this sociopathic rogue who, for all his defects, still commands attention from everyone trying to understand the 50 years after 1775. His charisma reaches across two centuries to perplex and fascinate any reader of this fast-paced and fully researched work.”—Publishers Weekly
A well-wrought study of far-reaching treachery in the early years of the United States.”—Kirkus Reviews
James Wilkinson was a consummate contradiction during the Revolutionary War era. In this modern biography of the greatest traitor--and one of the most colorful characters--in American history, Linklater examines the extraordinary double life of Wilkinson.
For almost two decades, through the War of 1812, James Wilkinson was the senior general in the United States Army. Amazingly, he was also Agent 13 in the Spanish secret service at a time when Spain's empire dominated North America. Wilkinson's audacious career as a double agent is all the more remarkable because it was an open secret, circulated regularly in newspapers and pamphlets. His saga illuminates just how fragile and vulnerable the young republic was: No fewer than our first four presidents turned a blind eye to his treachery and gambled that the mercurial general would never betray the army itself and use it too overthrow the nascent union--a faith that was ultimately rewarded.
About the Author
Andro Linklater is the author of the highly praised Measuring America and The Fabric of America. He lives in England.