Thursday, July 22, 2010

My Favorite Reads: Manhunt by James L. Swanson

In My Favorite Reads each week I feature one of my favorite reads from the past. July is American History month.

Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer by James L. Swanson

Summary (from the publisher):
The murder of Abraham Lincoln set off the greatest manhunt in American history -- the pursuit and capture of John Wilkes Booth. From April 14 to April 26, 1865, the assassin led Union cavalry and detectives on a wild twelve-day chase through the streets of Washington, D.C., across the swamps of Maryland, and into the forests of Virginia, while the nation, still reeling from the just-ended Civil War, watched in horror and sadness.

At the very center of this story is John Wilkes Booth, America's notorious villain. A Confederate sympathizer and a member of a celebrated acting family, Booth threw away his fame and wealth for a chance to avenge the South's defeat. For almost two weeks, he confounded the manhunters, slipping away from their every move and denying them the justice they sought.

Based on rare archival materials, obscure trial transcripts, and Lincoln's own blood relics, Manhunt is a fully documented work, but it is also a fascinating tale of murder, intrigue, and betrayal. A gripping hour-by-hour account told through the eyes of the hunted and the hunters, this is history as you've never read it before.

Why I chose this book:
The story is fascinating - did you know that John Wilkes Booth got away for a week and was hiding out? He so easily could have escaped if just one or two small events had gone differently. I also didn't know that unlike other presidential assassinations, this actually was a political conspiracy with plots to also kill the Vice-President and Secretary of State on the same night. Luckily, only Booth was successful (that sounds bad. I mean it's lucky not more of the conspirators were successful, not that it's good that Booth was.) Secretary of State William Seward was a formidable character. The man who was supposed to kill VP Johnson instead went to a bar and got drunk. I learned a massive amount and it was very well-written. More like a mystery or a thriller than a history book, Mr. Swanson sure knows how to make history fun! (And incidentally, he's also a very nice guy as I met him at Seward's House by coincidence, just after I read this book.)

I listened to this on audio, abridged. I had no idea it was abridged, as it's still quite long and detailed. I had many driveway moments with this audiobook! This is one abridged audiobook that has always made me want to go back and read the full book in print as I think surely the stuff that was cut out was just as interesting as the stuff that was left in (how could it not be?)

There is also a version for teens called Chasing Lincoln's Killer that I have recommended to several friends for their junior high sons who aren't eager readers.


Alyce said...

I love what you called "driveway moments" - I know exactly what you mean about that with audiobooks.

I did know that John Wilkes Booth got away for a short time, but had no clue that there was a conspiracy to kill others. I love it when I find a good history book (because it seems to be a rarity), so I will keep this one in mind.

Cecelia said...

Very interesting! I didn't know that Booth got away for a time - so I should probably read this one. Or give it to my brother Lincoln. Maybe I'll give it to him AFTER I read it. Yeah, that sounds like a plan. Nice pick!

My choice this week is D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths.