Sunday, July 04, 2010

Book Review Rabble in Arms by Kenneth Roberts

This is the second of Roberts three works on the American Revolution. We reviewed Arundel earlier. This is the rare sequel that is even better than the excellent first book. The hero of the first book is the historical figure Natanis an Abenaki indian makes brief appearances. The main character from the previous book Steve Nason appears, but has grown as a person and as an officer. His sidekick the perpetually drunk but heroic Cap Huff has a major role again.

The hero of this book is undoubtedly Benedict Arnold. Historically, we make the error in assuming that his later treason is the sum of his contribution. General Arnold was perhaps the greatest military leader of the American Revolution. Unfortunately, congress did not recognize his achievements and officers of far lesser ability were promoted over him. The formal history says that General Gates defeated Burgoyne at the Battle of Saratoga. Gates did little real fighting and he wrote his reports taking credit for the initiative of Arnold. In essence those of you that are stars at work and have lesser coworkers take credit for your efforts grasp a mere fraction of the situation General Arnold found himself in.

The book shines when Arnold makes an appearance. There are those who state that Roberts is an apologist for Arnold. Roberts conveys the Arnold lost in history due to his later ethical lapse.

The author did serve in the US occupation of Siberia and much of his writing should be viewed as a reaction to the abomination of the Russian Revolution. In the view of Roberts, who was a Conservative, the Revolution of the rabble was saved at the last moment by the Constitution that formed a coherent system of governance. In the 1930's era there was an assumption by many that similar revolutions would overthrow governments. Much of Roberts themes about cronyism and political hacks promoted over their ability by manipulating the system remains valid today.

When I read this book, I wondered what type of book would the author write showing Arnold after his fall from grace. The answer lies in Oliver Wiswell a book written from the loyalist perspective. That book has the greatest reaction of all of the Roberts novels. It is praised by many readers as his finest work for its unique perspective and it is panned by many for the same reason.

I have acquired all of Roberts books save one Lydia Bailey. Lydia Bailey is en route as we speak
and is in my opinion his most unique work dealing with the Haitian revolution as a backdrop.

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