Tag: Biography

History’s B-Listers


381px-James_WilkinsonBiography is probably the most popular — and certainly the most accessible — way of learning about history. For obvious reasons, most of them focus on the star figures of their day: hundreds of books have been written about Alexander of Macedon, Augustus, Napoleon, Abraham Lincoln, and Winston Churchill, and hundreds more will be written in the centuries to come.

But for every Great Man, there are always a number of ancillary and supporting characters whose lives are equally fascinating — and just as illuminating about their eras — as those of the superstars. I don’t simply mean the other well-known figures of the day — the Dariuses, Marc Antonies, Wellingtons, and Jefferson Davises — or the millions of common folk who are the subject of social history: I mean the genuine supporting characters who were important in their day, but whose names have understandably faded from memory. Think of them as “Best Supporting Historical Figures.”

One such character is Gen. James Wilkinson (1757-1825), who recently found a biographer in Andro Linklater. As the title of An Artist In Treason implies, Wilkinson was undoubtedly one of the slimiest, most perfidious characters of his day and widely suspected of being in the employ of the Spanish government, then one of America’s biggest rivals (the Spaniards confirmed Wilkinson’s well-compensated treachery decades after his death). That, however, did not prevent him from serving as America’s highest-ranking military officer under each of America’s first four presidents, and as the United States’ first governor of the Louisiana Territory. His military career began with the Siege of Boston in 1775 and ended — with a few gaps as a Kentucky politician/statesman/scoundrel — thirty-seven years later 1812. He died while serving as the American Envoy to Mexico.

Member Post


This is a shameless request: I’m looking for a solid biography of Thomas Jefferson, and I want suggestions. From my reading on other Founding Fathers, Jefferson often doesn’t come out looking too wonderful.  This is partly because of the man’s genuine flaws, and I know that I quite frankly disagree with him probably on more […]

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