While the story of Lincoln’s assassination and subsequently John Wilkes Booth 12 day manhunt is an infamous story that has been retold many times, both from an author’s perspective with the goal to purely entertain, and a historians whose goal is to inform.
Swanson, the author, somehow manages to entwine the two making the book more than just a normal retelling of information that everyone already knew. He takes an old topic and transforms it into a new story by presenting it in a new way. Not only does Swanson provide an in-depth perspective into Booth’s thinking, he also offers an hour-by-hour retelling of the assassination and the events leading up to it.
The book is an in-depth story on the day Lincoln was assassinated and the twelve days after hunting for Booth and his accomplishes. The author, who from a young age was obsessed with Lincoln, and his subsequent death, had already co-written a book about Lincoln’s assassin. However, this book dealt with more of what happened after the assassination, and Swanson wanted to explore and write more about the events leading up to, and directly after the assassination primarily from Booth’s viewpoint. After collecting countless first hand evidence from what happened in forms of newspapers from the time period to other various documents, the author finally wrote a book on someone he always admired and looked up to.
While there is no main point made by the author in the novel as it is a retelling of the events that happened surrounding Lincoln’s assassination, there is a consistent theme of Booth’s hatred towards Lincoln and the causes Lincoln believed in, and Booth wanting to reignite the civil war, so that the South could win. There is also an undercurrent theme of survival as Booth is trying to get away without facing the consequences of what he had done. The author spent years cultivating his own private library of original documents, manuscripts, newspapers, pamphlets, prints, photographs, artifacts, and memorabilia to write the book as authentically as possible.
The author preferred to use information that was first hand accounts of what happened to write his book. In an interview with Scholastic he states, “I need to have the original newspaper in my hands. I want to experience it the same way as someone alive in 1865 would have if they bought the morning paper from a newsboy.” Due to this the information that Swanson used was often primary; however, he did use some secondary sources when he could not find a first hand account of what happened. Swanson is a professional writer; however, he is quite obsessed with Lincoln and knows enough about his to be a professor teaching about Lincoln’s life. While the author here cannot really be bias, as the other viewpoint of the story is that of the killer, Swanson is clearly bias towards Lincoln based on his lifelong passion for all things Lincoln related. The author before writing this book, co-wrote another book based on Lincoln’s assassination’ however, this focused more on the aftermath of Lincoln’s death and not actually Lincoln’s death.
The author has also written various books about different president assassinations, such as JFK’s, and their killers. The author received the Edgar Award for the Best Fact Crime for Manhunt. The novel is presented in chronological order, hour by hour of what happened before, during, and after the murder of Lincoln. It starts out the morning of the assassination with BOOth having breakfast with one of his girlfriends, and follows Booth through his day as he prepares for assassinating Lincoln and to when he actually does kill him. The story continues then through the actions Booth took to avoid capture, until the very end when he was, in fact, captured – killed in this case. The book also ends with those who helped capture Booth receiving payment.
The book also included an epilogue that talked about the aftermath of Booth’s actions and what his family thought of it, and the lives of the various other people that were involved in the story, such as Samuel Mudd. Since the novel is very detail oriented and in chronological order there are no important gaps in it. Sometimes it felt like the readers were given too much information about what occurred. The author did use various pictures in the novel to improve the reader’s experience, for example Swanson included a picture of the Secretary of War Edwin Stanton when he was talking about him. He also included a picture of Lincoln’s death bed when he was talking about it. The author often used pictures to enhance the reader’s experience and to help readers visualize what happened better. The author also used letters that were written between the people to give the reader’s a more detailed glance into the thought process of the people, such as Booth.
The book was written for the average reader who wanted to know more about what went down during Lincoln’s assassination. It is filled with language that is not too complicated for someone to not understand what is happening in the novel. If the novel is too large and unreadable to some, Swanson reduced the novel and created a kids version of it for younger children to consume, or for adults who just want to know the main points. While I had learned of Lincoln’s assassination in other history classes and have read about it previously myself, I read the kids version of the book when I was in elementary school, This novel provided me an in-depth look into what actually happened the day of Lincoln’s assassination and the infamous twelve day hunt after it. It also provided me with details I never knew about, and an inside look into Booth’s thought process and why he wanted to kill Lincoln, which I never knew before.
I found it very interesting to read a book like this since I do enjoy reading historical novels; however, the book might be a little slow of fact-filled in some parts for someone who is not that enthusiastic to read the book as I was. This book is the perfect book for those to reference when they are researching, or writing about anything regarding Lincoln’s assassination, as it provides them with avery in-depth view on what actually happened. I would definitely recommend this book to someone else; however, I would prepare them for the length of it. I found that the author uniquely portrayed Booth in a way that I actually understood where he was coming from, while I did not agree with Booth’s viewpoints it was nice to have it broken down to me in a way that made him human. While this book is definitely perfect for a history buff, I find that this book would also be perfect for anyone who is curious about this topic, or those who want to learn more about this topic.
I also find that I would recommend this book to those who might be researching about this topic. As I stated before, this book definitely changed the way I thought about Booth and why he had assassinated Lincoln. Before reading this book I only knew that Booth was simply the man who assassinated Lincoln; however, after reading the novel I saw Booth as a fanatic who did something drastic for a cause he believed in, which many do.