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An Artist in Treason: The Extraordinary Double Life of General James Wilkinson

3.79  ·  Rating Details  ·  117 Ratings  ·  43 Reviews
The first modern biography of the greatest traitor—and one of the most colorful characters—in American history.

Patriot, traitor, general, spy: James Wilkinson was a consummate contradiction. Brilliant and precocious, at age twenty he was both the youngest general in the revolutionary Continental Army, and privy to the Conway cabal to oust Washington from command. He was B
Hardcover, 392 pages
Published September 29th 2009 by Walker Books
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Brian DiMattia
Jul 21, 2009 Brian DiMattia rated it it was amazing
An excellent book! Linklater sets out to tell the story of one of the greatest traitors in American history, and ends up telling the story of a young America. This may look like a biography, but it's also a populist, setting-the-record-straight history, a manual for civil servants dealing with the whims of politicians, a study of military/government relations, and a look at the psychology of the narcissistic personality. And it does all of these things well in only 320 some odd pages!

As this is
Steven Peterson
Oct 03, 2009 Steven Peterson rated it it was amazing
I had read small snippets here and there about General James Wilkinson. That he was in the pay of the Spanish. That he was in cahoots with Aaron Burr. But never anything in great detail. Thus, I was most intrigued when this book came out. At last, a chance to get to learn about the General in some detail.

James Wilkinson was born into a family with aristocratic pretensions. However, things did not work out so well--and his father ended up dying when James was quite young. At a young age, he began
Ian Racey
Oct 25, 2014 Ian Racey rated it liked it
Fascinating and engaging, about a Founding Father who really should be better known, a secessionist and a traitor closely entwined with Benedict Arnold, the Battle of Saratoga, the founding both of Kentucky and the US Army, Thomas Jefferson and the Louisiana Purchase. And had a really thought-provoking thesis about the traitor Wilkinson's pivotal contribution to the cementing of civilian control of the American military and of the supremacy of the Federal Union.

I'd be giving in five stars were i
Nov 02, 2011 Jason rated it really liked it
General James Wilkinson, a largely forgotten today Army officer, is a maddening character. For several decades, he gained the trust of President's from Washington through Monroe, at times as the senior officer in the US Army. When well motivated, he could be a tremendous organizer of men and materials, for that was what the early army needed the most in the first years of the Republic.

As a reliable character, he was perhaps one of the worst men ever to have worn the uniform of the the US armed f
Oct 13, 2009 John rated it really liked it
James Wilkinson played roles in the American Revolution, the settling of the frontier to the Mississippi River, the battles with the Native Americans in Ohio and Indiana, the Aaron Burr conspiracy, the War of 1812, and relations with Spain and Mexico. He commanded the U.S. Army for Adams, Jefferson, and Madison. What's remarkable is that many suspected that Wilkinson was a secret agent for the Spanish -- and he was -- "Agent 13". Yet Presidents Washington through Madison supported him. What's al ...more
David Monroe
Nov 04, 2009 David Monroe rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, biography
I was sent this book to blog, which I will very soon. I was excited to read it. I did my Thesis on the great American douche, General James Wilkinson. My thesis focused on his machinations to an attempt Kentucky's secession. He was on the payroll of Spain while simultaneously holding the position of Gen'l of the Armies, the same position Washington held. From the Burr conspiracy to piracy in Louisiana to fermenting small rebellions to attempting to create an empire in Mexico that would rival Ame ...more
Robert Gilbert
Oct 02, 2014 Robert Gilbert rated it liked it
This was a great read for the purpose of triangulating the whos and whats of early American history. The author did well to tell the story in an entertaining manner that made me want to keep reading. However, the way he jumped forward and backwards in time to follow a particular thread of plot was at times very hard to follow. Being the only one in my house (or my community, it seems) who likes reading these kinds of history books, I am going to have a hard time finding somebody to take this one ...more
Aug 21, 2015 J.S. rated it really liked it
Everyone knows the infamous traitor Benedict Arnold. Some may even know of Benjamin Church's spying for the British during the siege of Boston in the early part of the Revolution. Other's might even know of Aaron Burr's conspiracy (after his duel with Alexander Hamilton destroyed his political career) to create his own western empire. But few know of General James Wilkinson, who may have caused more trouble than all of them.

Wilkinson was one of Washington's generals and intimately involved in B
Tom Meyer
Jun 21, 2015 Tom Meyer rated it liked it
Informative and quite readable, with an unusual and interesting perspective not only on a fascinating character, but also on the United States Army between the Revolution and the War of 1812 and the early West. I knew the basic outline of Wilkinson's career fairly well coming into it, but this filled in the story quite well and connected a number of dots.

At least, I thought so, but now I'm honestly not sure. On at least two occasions -- in the paperback US edition, pp. 215 and 268 -- Linklater i
Aug 25, 2010 Christine rated it really liked it
Andro Linklater has succeeded in writing both an incredibly detailed and incredibly engrossing work on General James Wilkinson. I had no idea who James Wilkinson was (an American Army general during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 turned spy for Spain) as, I suspect many, do not. He was truly a fascinating character; willing to jump ship as it suited his purposes.

While not for the casual history buff this book is both rich in description and facts. It is long. It is also dry. It was di
Oct 29, 2009 Susan rated it really liked it
Far from being an expert on American history, I had never heard of General James Wilkinson until I learned of this book, but I think I am not alone in my ignorance. The story of “Agent 13” is colorful, fascinating, and could have lead, had he been successful in his endeavors, to a radically different country than the US as it is currently. His allegiance was constantly shifting, based on who could provide him the most money, power, and ego-stoking. He would repeatedly befriend someone of power a ...more
Feb 04, 2012 Brian rated it it was amazing
An Artist in Treason tells the story of General James Wilkinson who would lead the American military following the revolution through almost the war of 1812 and at the same time be a double agent in the Spanish intelligence services. This is the classic scenario of using ego and money to enroll a high placed agent. Wilkinson would make thousands (millions in todays dollars) from his work for the Spanish empire and would do so in utmost secrecy or years. His methods of trading with Spain and bein ...more
Jan 04, 2010 Sara rated it really liked it
Recommended to Sara by: FirstReads
3.5 stars. It took me quite a while to get through this book, not just because it was long but mainly because it was dry. I'm sure this is a book aimed at history buffs and not the casual reader, and though it was very detailed and interesting (at times, anyway - other parts were hard to get through), it was most certainly not light reading.

James Wilkinson was a general in the U.S. army in the late 18th/early 19th century who also served as "Agent 13" - a spy for the Spanish government, informin
Apr 18, 2012 Heather rated it really liked it
Before I read An Artist in Treason: The Extraordinary Life of General James Wilkinson by Andro Linklater I did not know of General Wilkinson. I did not know he was a respected general in the Continental Army and at the same time, supporting the Spanish. I'm guessing many people have not heard of this intriguing man but I recommend everyone should read this book in order to learn about him.

This book is extremely informative, the author has clearly done his research. There are two maps,an appendix
Sep 01, 2013 Jerome rated it it was amazing
Meet James Wilkinson, whose colorful and eventful life spans from Benedict Arnold’s invasion of Canada during the Revolution to the Aaron Burr conspiracy to the War of 1812. Along the way, he betrays everyone who strays into his path.

Linklater crafts an elegant portrait of man active at what he did best: commit treason. Wilkinson was fully capable of disloyalty on a personal level. Many a business partner found himself stiffed and Wilkinson's ability to shift his loyalty successfully from one mi
Keith Thompson
Jan 21, 2013 Keith Thompson rated it it was amazing
What if the top-ranking general of the United States Army was actually a traitor in the employ of our country's greatest enemy? Well, from 1797 through 1812, he was! Documents found in Havana after the Spanish-American War prove that James Wilkinson, commanding general of the U.S. Army during those turbulent years when America was expanding westward into Spanish territory, was in fact a paid agent of the Spanish Crown, and his story is well-documented and engagingly told in Andro Linklater's "An ...more
Oct 05, 2011 Relstuart rated it liked it
Shelves: history, biography
Perhaps Benedict Arnold was not the most nefarious of traitors in American history after all. Though he is still the most infamous.

It is fascinating to think that a man could become the highest ranking Army/military officer in the nation and be a spy for another country at the same time. And get away with it for many years.

Well written and researched book about a man I knew little about. He talks about not just the facts but also discusses what could have motivated Gen Wilkinson to treason and
Apr 17, 2010 Oldroses rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, biography
Andro Linklater has written a fabulous book. It is incredibly detailed. It took me more than a month to read because I could only digest it in small chunks. Thirty or forty pages a day were all that I could take in before having to put it down. Yet, at no time did I feel that I was slogging through it, pushing myself to just finish the darn book. It was truly a joy to read.


It’s a big “but”. My problem with this book is the misleading marketing. The book is heavily marketed as the story of a c
Feb 14, 2012 Mike rated it really liked it
If you have never heard of James Wilkinson, and you probably have not, I recommend you read An Artist in Treason: The Extraordinary Life of General James Wilkinson by Andro Linklater. He is probably the most interesting figure from the revolutionary era that no one has ever heard of.[return][return]James Wilkinson served in the Continental Army during the early part of the Revolutionary War before being forced to resign. In 1783, he moved to Kentucky where he advocated Kentucky’s separation from ...more
Nov 22, 2009 J.D. rated it liked it
Shelves: first-reads
As with others, I was largely unfamiliar with Wilkinson and the large impact he had on history. It's amazing to think of such an intense undermining taking place, while simultaneously retaining a decent reputation by even larger deceit. There is so much to this story, that is completely fascinating, yet the way that it was told diluted much of it by including too much detail in certain cases. While life doesn't always happen with the wonderful flow that fiction stories do, there have been many o ...more
Oct 28, 2009 Sheri rated it it was amazing
An Artist in Treason by Andro Linklater spans over 40 years telling of the life and career of General James Wilkinson. Wilkinson was the youngest general in the Revolutionary Continental Army, a fur trader, Brigadier General and finally Major General. He served under four Presidents: Washington, Adams, Jefferson & Madison.

His loyalty was questioned when he was found to be on Spain's "payroll". He was dubbed the (Spanish) Pensioner, and was also know as agent 13, in the Spanish Secret Service
Dec 19, 2013 John rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
Manageable biography (NOT a 800+ page tome) of a key figure in early America. Among other things, he was a Spanish spy, and attempted to betray the Lewis & Clark expedition to the Spanish. However, he also fully supported Jefferson's aims to expand the US, and when the time came, he did not join the Burr conspiracy.

It helps if you have a knowledge of the geography of the "old" Northwest and the Mississippi valley. I would be remiss in hot pointing out one HUGE boner in the biograpy--the auth
Nov 17, 2009 Kate rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
This book is on the life of General James Wilkinson, who was a general in the US Army during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, while also being a spy for Spain. The book is really well written and researched. Particularly the climax of the Burr Conspiracy was very gripping. Not only was the book well written, Wilkinson himself is an interesting character and one that you don't hear talked about that often. The book also gives insight into what politics and the military was like in the b ...more
Dec 14, 2009 Doreen rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: those interested in the early days of the USA, or in an honest portrayal of a complex man
Shelves: first-reads
I'm not giving this book five stars for either style (dry) or editing (lax; 7 typos in the first half of the book, at least) but because the research done on this fascinating subject is so well done as to make this complex man really stand out as more than just a "traitor". This accounting of General Wilkinson's life not only illuminates the turbulent first decades of the USA in all its glory and misery, but also serves as a reminder that everyone is capable of being noble and craven by turns. G ...more
Dec 18, 2009 Bonnie is currently reading it
I guess I may be a bit naeve but I never thought much about spies in the American Revolution. I love history and study it somewhat but more on a personal level because I am interested in genealogy.

This was a very interesting study of a man who thought much more of himself than others did. He did make a name for himself in the early history of our nation. The had dealings with many of the people we have heard about all our lives when in school.

I like the book, though it did get a bit tedious at
The American Conservative
'Some men, such as Wilkinson, are sordid, vain, and ambitious. Very few, however, are as brilliant as this reckless and dangerous man could be. People in his day just didn’t talk about “political science.” And if politics is science, then Wilkinson, as this thorough and thoroughly absorbing biography makes plain, was a scientist of a rare order—a mad scientist, perhaps, but a scientist nonetheless. He understood realpolitik as few Americans have. He detected the “prominent passions” of men, and ...more
Alex Raines
General Wilkenson is, by all accounts, a fascinating character of the early years of the USA, one who for understandable reasons, has been shorted on the ink. The book, while it seems to do a pretty good job of quoting from sources, etc., utterly fails to provide citations in the text of the book. That's the main reason, at this point, for the 2 star rating. Its a historical work or purports to be - if there aren't functional citations, it has a serious problem. Since finishing the book, I've di ...more
Dec 08, 2009 Jesse rated it it was ok
I was excited to read this book and I really wanted to like it. I am fascinated by the founding history of the United States and this book promised to shed an interesting light on the fragile nature of the early Union. Unfortunately it proved to be such a tedious read that I simply cannot recommend it. I should mention that the book I read was an advance copy provided by the publisher that had clearly not been copy edited. Whatever intrigue the story holds is utterly lost in awkward sentences an ...more
Catherine Woodman
I heard the author interviewed on NPR and wanted to read it--and frankly, he is a great oral storyteller (and was interviewed by someone who brought up great talking points) and the written work was less compelling--good, but a bit heavy on the details and with some backward looking occasionally that was a little hard to keep track of. Still and all, the life of a double agent was not too hard it seems in the early days of the republic, especially for someone who lived in the Louisiana territory ...more
Feb 21, 2010 Shannon rated it liked it
Shelves: own, first-reads
I tried to read this book, I really did. I got more than halfway through it, and I couldn't do it anymore! Too many other good books I would rather read started calling my name. That being said...

I thought this was a good book. I did enjoy parts of it. The best thing about it was that it did not read like a text book, even though it is, essentially, a history book. Parts of it read more like a novel, and those parts were definitely entertaining.

I did like the book well enough that I hope someday
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