Nonfiction: Killling Lincoln, by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard

Killing Lincoln: The Assassination that Changed America Forever

Pop History

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In his preface, Bill O’Reilly states that he wrote this history in the form of a thriller. As the author, he did make use of features common to fictional thrillers, such as cliff hanger chapter endings and imaginary conversations based upon the way events were playing out. As the reader of the audio version, however, O’Reilly’s presentation of his own work makes it sound more like a newscast. That factor aside, Killing Lincoln does inject a sense of drama into the fateful days surrounding the assassination. The book begins during the final weeks of the Civil War, as General Grant’s army pursues General Lee’s in order to prevent their escape and therefore the prolongation of the war. His description of that last campaign captures the war-weariness felt by everyone from soldier to private citizen. It proceeds to detail the actions of Booth and his fellow conspirators, then to the murder itself. The last section deals with the manhunt and trials, and closes with summaries about how the principal figures lived out the remainder of their lives.

Killing Lincoln should not be taken as a historical treatise, nor do I think O’Reilly intended it to be. Rather, its value lies in the way it retells an old story in a modern style that will appeal to today’s casual readers. There are some factual errors, true, but the bones of the recounting are sound, and the errors are not serious enough to ruin the impact of the vividness, horror, or importance of the actual event. If this book prompts some readers to delve more deeply into this period in our history, all the better. If not, it leaves in its wake a valuable sense of what happened during that shocking month, and why. I believe there’s a place for books like this. I enjoyed Killing Lincoln, warts and all. For first-rate historical coverage, I would recommend American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies by Michael W. Kauffman.

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