Another book on the Lincoln assassination? Well, yes, but unlike The Day Lincoln Was Shot, this book concentrates on the pursuit of his assassin, John Wilkes Booth.
James L. Swanson is an attorney and Lincoln scholar who has also ventured into the John F. Kennedy assassination with his book End of Days. Unlike some, ahem, Bill O’Reilly, Swanson knows his stuff and you won’t find anything in these books that would make you question Swanson’s facts.
It seems oddly appropriate that on the 151st anniversary of Lincoln’s death, I’m sitting here writing this review. Lincoln was shot on April 14, but lingered through the night and did not die until 7:22 the next morning. And so passed one of America’s greatest men at the hand of a madman. We can only wonder what might have happened if Lincoln had not been assassinated. Would he have been able to push his reconstruction agenda more successfully than Andrew Johnson? What would he have done after the war? Would his wife Mary been more mentally stable—probably not. Would his son Tad lived to old age as did his older brother Robert? We’ll never know.
Swanson does an excellent job of getting into the head of John Wilkes Booth. Booth’s delusions of grandeur come shining through and his disappointment over not being declared a hero by Southern newspapers is palpable. American Brutus by Michael W. Kauffman delves deeper into Booth’s psyche; also too much for my liking.
Swanson is a master storyteller and the book reads more like a novel than a history—not to belabor the point, but wasn’t this the objective of Bill O’Reilly in his recent books? Swanson shows that you can write history, not monkey with it, and still have it flow like a novel. Bravo to James L. Swanson!