Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Guest Blogger: Steve H.

Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer, by James L. Swanson – Twentysomething Readers Book Club
This spectacular nonfiction work reads like a first rate thriller, and Hollywood has taken notice, as the film rights have been sold, with Harrison Ford rumored to have a part as one of the man hunters. Most people probably know that John Wilkes Booth assassinated Abraham Lincoln, but my guess is most would not realize that the plot also called for the assassination of the President’s two immediate successors, Vice President Andrew Johnson, and Secretary of State William Seward, apparently in hopes of throwing the Union into a state of chaos. The book is indeed about the chase for John Wilkes Booth and his co-conspirators, but it is much more than that as well. Swanson does a fine job of making you feel that you are there with Booth in the woods and swamps, evading capture by the massive manhunt of soldiers and civilians. But he also takes you back to the roots of the assassination plan that began with an idea to kidnap Lincoln. After the failed attempt at kidnapping, Booth and his group, consisting of Lewis Powell, David Harold, and George Atzerodt, become aware of Lincoln’s plans to attend the Good Friday Ford Theater production of Our American Cousin. Remarkably Booth is able to throw together the assassination plot in less than one day, execute it and elude capture for 12 more days. David Harold and Lewis Powell are unsuccessful in their ghastly attempt to murder Seward, and Atzerodt gets cold feet and does not follow through with his part of the plan, although all three are hanged for their involvement. The story intertwines Booth’s story with that of Lincoln’s death and funeral, the mourning nation, the organization in Washington of the manhunt and all the forces available to the search, and the last days of the Civil War. Yes it is a lot to recount, and the depth of research and the comprehensive reporting given to the story is astonishing, but the book still managed to clip along at a nice pace. The most difficult part was keeping the names straight. I highly recommend this book, and advise you to check out Swanson’s companion piece, Lincoln's Assassins : Their Trial and Execution : An Illustrated History. Be warned that there are some rather grim images of the actual hangings, but there are also a lot of pictures of the conspirators, allowing you to put a face with the name. And for those that really get entranced with this story, we also have two fine documentaries in our collection; The Hunt for John Wilkes Booth, and The Hunt for Lincoln’s Assassin.

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