Wednesday, October 19, 2011

"Killing Lincoln?" You can do better

One of my pet peeves about Los Angeles is the lack of good radio stations. There are none that consistently play music I want to listen to. At best you get one good song before having to change the station. Occasionally it's nice to listen to a baseball game, but games aren't on all the time. And Talk Radio? Geez, nothing gets my blood pressure up faster than listening to those idiots! So, most of the time I end up listening to NPR. In spite of their "no rant and no slant" claim, they lean a lot further to the Left than they realize, but usually it's tolerable (and they don't yell!). So, maybe I can be forgiven for not knowing if Bill O'Reilly was on the Left or the Right. I knew only that he was a political commentator. And when Amazon Vine offered me his new book, Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination that Changed America Forever, I thought I might give it a try.

After the Confederate forces surrendered, Abraham Lincoln wanted to reintegrate the Southern states back into the Union. Although many believed the prodigals should be treated with a heavy hand and made to pay war reparations, Lincoln favored a forgiving approach that he hoped would rebuild the nation and its devastated economy. His plans were interrupted, however, when John Wilkes Booth, a celebrity of the stage and a virulent racist, thought he could reignite the war by killing the President. When Booth shot Lincoln in Ford's Theater he made himself the object of the nation's greatest manhunt and ensured Lincoln's place as the nation's greatest martyr.

O'Reilly has written a very novel-like story of the final days of the Civil War and the assassination of President Lincoln shortly thereafter. It is written to enhance the drama of the story and engages in a lot of speculative comments about what the characters see or think, such as stating that Booth absent-mindedly kissed a ring from his former fiancé while pausing at the door to Lincoln's box, or what Lincoln felt upon being shot. As someone who reads quite a lot of history I found these speculations distracting, but someone not used to reading as much history might appreciate the drama it adds. Supposedly O'Reilly used to be a high-school history teacher and such an approach could have been excellent with reluctant teenagers. However, one part I did find especially interesting and even exciting was Grant's pursuit of Lee's Confederate army.

I listened to the audiobook read by Mr. O'Reilly himself, and while he does a decent job it might have benefitted more from a professional reader. O'Reilly's pronunciation of "sentries" sounds more like "centuries," and is occasionally halting. Other reviewers complained that his pronunciation of "cavalry" (men on horses) sounds more like "Calvary" (the place where Jesus died). He also explains twice the phrase Booth shouted from the theater stage, "Sic semper tyrannis," meaning "thus always to tyrants," and makes frequent connections to the death of Caesar (and Jesus, too). And he tries to play up the unproven conspiracy theory connecting Secretary of War Edwin Stanton to Booth, probably another effort to enhance the drama.

But O'Reilly is a controversial figure and there's been a lot of hubbub on the Amazon forums over this book. As someone with an allergy to political commentators of either stripe (and when I say "stripe" I think of skunks - an especially apt comparison, don't you think?), I suggest a better choice would be Chasing Lincoln's Killer by James L. Swanson. Although it was written for teenagers, it provides a good introductory account of the assassination. And without all the political controversy O'Reilly brings to the story!

1 comment:

  1. This book made learning about an historical event fun and interesting. It held my interest throughout the entire book. It also added to my knowledge base and corrected a few misconceptions I'd held about how Lincoln was assassinated.