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

3.8  ·  Rating details ·  145 Ratings  ·  52 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
Hardcover, 392 pages
Published September 29th 2009 by Walker & Company
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Brian DiMattia
Jun 24, 2009 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 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
Nov 02, 2011 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
Ian Racey
Oct 14, 2014 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
Oct 13, 2009 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
Oct 24, 2009 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
Jun 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Call General James Wilkinson the original Number 9. Not as in the strange coda to the Beatles record from 1968, rather he was secret agent Number 9 in the pay of the Spanish government. And no, this is not a spoiler because it is a central weirdness in a life of extremes. General Wilkinson was an odd mixture of vainglory, extravagance, self-interest, military skills, charm and bluff. Presidents who distrusted him, found they could neither disgrace him nor operate the army without him. He would i ...more
Jul 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Despite having read several books on Revolutionary War figures, and a few general US histories, I was completely unaware of Wilkinson, the second commander-in-chief of United States armed forces (and the last before the President was given that power), and a paid spy for the Spanish colonies bordering the United States during the first years of our Republic. An interesting figure, he - constantly in debt, a brilliant military strategist, a devoted husband, a frequent subject of trials which fail ...more
Martin Lowery
May 02, 2018 rated it liked it
An Artist in Treason was an interesting biography of one of the earliest generals, who, as the author claims, was also a Spanish informant.

The story at times dragged, especially where the author wanted to inundate his own personal ideas about what was going on independent of primary sources.

My biggest issue came towards the end, where General James Wilkinson was court martialed 3 times for being a Spanish agent and found innocent every time. Upon looking back, there never appears a clear reaso
Elizabeth Teig Von Hoffman
Jun 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
Linklater effectively lays out the always entertaining life of General Wilkinson, despite the many gaps in documentation caused by the General's secret lives. Some aspects of his life are brushed over (his ownership of slaves isn't mentioned until the last chapter and never discussed in detail) but the political intrigue and military career are very clearly and completely conveyed.
Sean Chick
Mar 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A very readable and fair account of America's most infamous and unsuccessful turncoat. It is a complicated story since Wilkinson did a lot of good but also quite a bit of bad in his long and colorful career. My favorite part was the discussion of his service during the Revolution.
Jan 19, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
This book flows easily, yet I grew tired of it by the end. Also it’s difficult to say when facts end and speculation begins. It did provide information about Wilkinson and the situation early in the country’s history that I did not know, and I do not regret reading it.
James Howard
Bogs down in the middle.

Loses dramatic velocity in a legalistic depiction of events. Short on contemporary history of Spanish colonial situation in parts of North America now in the United States.
Craig McGraw
Sep 10, 2017 rated it liked it
Interesting but at times the author gives too many details about this "Unfounding" Father of the USA
Tom Griffiths
Nov 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book was a fascinating exploration of treason in early America. it reminds me of the differentvabalysis that hindsight creates.
Jul 23, 2012 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
Feb 14, 2012 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
Apr 15, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography, history
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
Jul 09, 2014 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
Keith Thompson
Jan 21, 2013 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
Robert Gilbert
Oct 02, 2014 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
Tom Meyer
Jan 15, 2011 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
Oct 12, 2009 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
Susan (aka Just My Op)
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
Jan 15, 2012 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
Apr 18, 2012 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
Oct 03, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: biography, history
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
Oct 22, 2009 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 19, 2009 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
Nov 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
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