Friday, February 8, 2013

Killing Lincoln by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard

As one whose reputation can polarize an audience, Bill O'Reilly has tried to transcend that position by writing a treatise on the last days of our 16th president. Killing Lincoln was a very readable account of the end of the Civil War with the description of the end strategies of the North, the spiraling descent of John Wilkes both into an obsession of assassinating Lincoln, and the tragic end of Lincoln's life.

The narrative alternates between Booth's movements, the ending battle plans of the Civil War and the actions of Lincoln. It is an interesting way of combining the events into a singular story and shows how the interactions influence each other. Booth's original plan and the one under which he conscripted his co-conspirators was to kidnap Lincoln. But as the plan was being put into motion, Booth's obsession escalated to assassination of Lincoln, Vice-President Johnson, and William Seward. Killing Lincoln concludes with the capture of Booth and the flurry of trials and executions of those who were ultimately connected with the plot. 

O'Reilly has been criticised for a number of errors in the book and his political motivation for painting a picture of Lincoln that exalts him with reverence. The errors do not seem as egregious to me as they did to Rae Emerson, deputy superintendent of Ford's Theater who banned the book from the shop at the historical venue. They are troubling for an erudite scholar of American history, to be sure. But one cannot help but think the reviews and banning are politically motivated. O'Reilly has since responded and changed the mistakes in subsequent publications of the book.

The book is fast-paced, an easy, fascinating, and interesting read. There are hints that Booth was part of a larger conspiracy that involved Edward Stanton. These theories have been passed around for decades and leads the reader to further investigation of the real history and there is nothing wrong with that. Combined with two recent movies, Lincoln and The Conspirator, Killing Lincoln, adds to the unending cache of materials surrounding a most disturbing time in the history of our country. There just isn't enough time to digest it all.

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