Front Page
| Contact | Philosophy | The Contributors | For Writers


Book Review;
by Wayne Lutz

Benedict Arnold

A Drama of the American Revolution In Five Acts,

by Robert Zubrin (Polaris Books, 104pp., $9.95)

It's October in New York State, 1777. The brutal heat of summer lingered too long into autumn, but is now finally giving way to crisp, cool air. The leaves have shed their deep green mantle in an annual explosion of flaming yellow, burnt orange and blood red colors that has reached its peak, transforming this heavily forested region of New England into a natural wonder, the inexpressible beauty of which future generations will travel hundreds and thousands of miles to admire.

But today that beauty is undoubtedly lost on the Patriots whose own blood, shed here for an heroic ideal, soaks into the already fertile soil of Freeman's Farm, and the acrid smell of gunpowder spoils the senses for any appreciation of clean, free air.

British General John Burgoyne's army had been pressing the Continentals from the north, but his position was becoming increasingly precarious. Faced with a growing American force, the Brits nonetheless fought gallantly and had almost won the battle of Saratoga. The Continental Army, led by General Horatio Gates, had all but secured victory when the British formed a final desperate assault, bolstered by Hessian mercenaries. The American lines wavered and were in danger of breaking. General Gates did not appear on the battlefield.
Enter Benedict Arnold.

Arnold had been relieved of command by Gates after a quarrel over tactics. Despite having no proper command, Arnold, sensing impending defeat, rallied the men and drove them against the German troops holding the British center. Under tremendous pressure from all sides, the Germans withdrew into the fortifications on Freeman Farm.

In a stirring display of reckless courage, Arnold led one column in a series of savage attacks on the Balcarres Redoubt, a powerful British fieldwork on the Freeman Farm. He then wheeled his horse and, dashing through the crossfire from both sides, galloped northwest to the Breymann Redoubt. There he joined the final surge that overwhelmed the German soldiers defending that fortification. As he entered the Redoubt Arnold took a bullet in the leg. The resulting wound almost cost him his life. As it was, the injury was to plague him for the rest of his life.

Burgoyne surrendered on October 17, utterly defeated, in one of the most decisive battles in history. Historians consider the Battle of Saratoga to be the turning point of the Revolutionary war, convincing the French and the Americans themselves that an American victory was possible. Had Benedict Arnold died in battle that day, there would be few heroes of the American Revolution more hailed and revered today than he. Instead, Arnold lived to fall into disgrace, narrowly avoiding hanging, and his name has become synonymous with "traitor."

The story of the Revolutionary War is a story of miracles and dumb luck, unlikely heros and villains, selfless bravery and a nobility of ideals that, if fiction, might well be rejected by a publisher as stretching the credulity of a potential audience too far beyond their ability to suspend disbelief. It follows, then, that any successful retelling of that story would come from a mind in tune with the miraculous; a mind familiar with the possibilities inherent in causes larger than the self.
Enter Robert Zubrin.

Benedict Arnold, A Drama Of The American Revolution, In Five Acts, is as the title suggests a dramatization of the Revolutionary War. The historically accurate play is Zubrin's first, as well as his first work of historical fiction.
Zubrin is an internationally renowned astronautical engineer and the author of, among man other worksy, The Case for Mars, which no less a "possibility thinker" than Arthur C. Clark hailed as "the most comprehensive account of the past and future of Mars that I have ever encountered." Whether describing future possibility as with "The Case for Mars," satirizing current political events in The Holy Land, or dramatizing past historical fact in Benedict Arnold, it is Zubrin's ability to grasp the larger vision and to share it in a way that grips the imagination that makes his writing so compelling.

"The American Revolution has always fascinated me, because it was a moment that a people rose above its apparent practical self-interest to launch and win a fight for a visionary future," writes Zubrin, and visionary futures are a concept with which he is uniquely familiar.

Zubrin’s knack for characterization is on full display in Benedict Arnold, leaving the reader with strong impressions of the motives, passions and moral grounding that drove the players in this most crucial moment in American history.
"The key struggle was more moral than military," says Zubrin, and it is a testament to the men of that time that even the most common among them remained morally resolute through that struggle in the face of incredible hardship. It was three of the humblest and most unlikely of heroes, for example, who rose above the chance for personal gain to thwart Arnold’s treachery and save the cause, while Arnold himself, a genuine hero, succumbed to all-too-human passions - jealousy, greed, a beautiful young woman - betraying his beloved Washington and the Revolution itself. It is one of the miracles of the Revolutionary war, not that strong men like Arnold sold out, but that more like him did not.

"That miracle carries a message of real hope and challenge for our kind," says Zubrin. "It dares us to be great."
Zubrin captures the reader's imagination on the first page with the American charge into the Hessian lines and keeps his grip throughout; taking us from Benedict Arnold's most noble hour at Saratoga, through his decline at the delicate, manipulative hands of beautiful and treacherous spy, to his utter disgrace and flight to the British side - all in a single sitting.
Strap in for a visionary trip into the past. Gain insight along the way into the minds of such heros as Washington, Lafayette and Hamilton, villains such as Peggy Shipton and Captain John Andre', and understanding of the passions that drove one of the most intriguing personalities in all of American History – Hero of the Revolution and traitor to the cause - Benedict Arnold.

About the author:
Dr. Robert Zubrin is an internationally renowned astronautical engineer, a former senior engineer at Lockheed Martin, and he is president of the Mars Society, a non-profit group promoting planetary exploration, and founder of Pioneer Astronautics, a successful space technology research and development firm. Zubrin is the author of over 150 technical and non-technical papers in the areas of space exploration and nuclear engineering, and holds two US patents. His other books include the non-fiction Entering Space: Creating a Spacefaring Civilization, and Mars on Earth, the hard science fiction novel First Landing, and The Holy Land, a science fiction satire on contemporary events.