book response: Manhunt The 12 day chase for Lincoln's killer by Swanson (2007)

One of my favorite things to do on holiday vacations is to read. Napping is the other, and they go together like hand and glove. Despite my napping, this book, which I had to borrow from the library after reading James Swanson's newest book, went too fast. Swanson writes history at a quick pace, it's only 12 days after all in this story, but adds so much color to the characters and their times. He incorporates the quirks, the dress, the songs, the headlines, the personal letters, diaries, sights, smells, and sounds into an immersive environment for the reader. In an afterword, incorporated into the Kindle edition, there is an author interview, where we find out Swanson, who shares Lincoln's birthday, grew up fascinated with Lincoln history, and was buying memorabilia when he was a teenager. He himself is fully immersed in Lincoln, but is able to write well enough to bring us, his readers along for the swim.

John Wilkes Booth was a white supremacist, a secessionist, a brilliant and exceedingly handsome actor, and an egomaniac. While he lay in hiding in a pine copse for a week, his primary concern was his headlines. The assassin was an actor first and could not stop himself from checking the nation's response to an act on his largest stage. He was sorely disappointed that the papers reviled him and turned Abraham Lincoln into a martyred saint. For more about that process see Swanson's subsequent book.

I'm impressed with Swanson's restraint in painting the characters. He adores Lincoln, and calls him the greatest US president, yet he doesn't caricature Booth. He was a deeply flawed man, and Swanson let's those flaws speak for themselves. But he also includes the acts of love Booth's family extended to him post-mortem and shares their conflicted thoughts and feelings from their surviving writings about Booth.

Before reading this book, my understanding of Booth's flight and demise was really fuzzy. I really appreciate the clarity Swanson brought to me.
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