Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination That Changed America Forever by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard

February 20, 2012

Summary (from the publisher): A riveting historical narrative of the heart-stopping events surrounding the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, and the first work of history from mega-bestselling author Bill O’Reilly

The anchor of The O’Reilly Factor recounts one of the most dramatic stories in American history—how one gunshot changed the country forever. In the spring of 1865, the bloody saga of America’s Civil War finally comes to an end after a series of increasingly harrowing battles. President Abraham Lincoln’s generous terms for Robert E. Lee’s surrender are devised to fulfill Lincoln’s dream of healing a divided nation, with the former Confederates allowed to reintegrate into American society. But one man and his band of murderous accomplices, perhaps reaching into the highest ranks of the U.S. government, are not appeased.

In the midst of the patriotic celebrations in Washington D.C., John Wilkes Booth—charismatic ladies’ man and impenitent racist—murders Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre. A furious manhunt ensues and Booth immediately becomes the country’s most wanted fugitive. Lafayette C. Baker, a smart but shifty New York detective and former Union spy, unravels the string of clues leading to Booth, while federal forces track his accomplices. The thrilling chase ends in a fiery shootout and a series of court-ordered executions—including that of the first woman ever executed by the U.S. government, Mary Surratt. Featuring some of history’s most remarkable figures, vivid detail, and page-turning action, Killing Lincoln is history that reads like a thriller.

Liked:

  • The only thing I knew about Lincoln’s assassination prior to reading this book was that John Wilkes Booth shot him in a private box at Ford’s Theater. I didn’t know about Booth’s motivations or anything else. This book filled in A LOT of blanks in that regard, and now I feel as though I have a much better understanding of what went down on that fateful April day.
  • I didn’t even know that Booth had co-conspirators who also targeted other high-ranking officials in the government. Reading about the plots against Seward, Johnson, and Grant was interesting as well.
  • The description of the manhunt for Booth was quite thrilling. Again, I didn’t know that Booth was on the lam for 12 whole days after the assassination nor that he was shot and killed before being brought to trial. This part was, by far, the best part of the book for me. I wondered how Booth and his accomplice David Herold would escape from D.C. with practically every soldier in the army looking for them. It sounded like they had a miserable time of it, at any rate.
  • I didn’t know that Mary Surratt was the first and only female to be executed by hanging by the U.S. government. That’s definitely something to store away for a game of trivia sometime down the road. Now…did Mary deserve her punishment? I think so. It’s hard to believe that the conspirators had all their meetings at her boardinghouse and had her carrying messages and packages for them without her knowing what was going on.
  • This book was easy to read and very engrossing. It wasn’t history per se; it was a far more entertaining (though not exactly sensationalized) presentation of the facts surrounding Lincoln’s assassination.

Disliked:

  • I thought all the stuff about the final Civil War battles and Robert E. Lee’s surrender was extremely boring. I understand that the authors might have wanted to include some Civil War stuff for context, but the chapters dealing with these battles were extremely detailed and took up many, many pages. I wanted to read about Booth and Lincoln, not about the Civil War, so I basically skimmed those chapters just to get through them.
  • I wish the authors had pursued the potential connection between Booth and Secretary of War Edward Stanton a bit more. They made it sound like the situation had the makings of a full-blown conspiracy, but the whole thread was simply dropped towards the end of the book.

Rating:

This is the first and only book I’ve ever read about the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, so I don’t have more scholarly works to compare it against. Just taking it on its own merits (without going into the possible inaccuracies since I have no way of verifying one way or the other without doing substantial research myself), I think Killing Lincoln was a decent book. It was very accessible and engaging for the most part, and if the early scenes of the Civil War battles had been eliminated, I might have rated it higher. The parts about Booth and the actual assassination rate a 5 out of 5 from me, but considered as a whole I give this book 3 stars out of 5.

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