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American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies Paperback – October 18, 2005

4.6 out of 5 stars 103 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Kauffman, an independent Lincoln assassination scholar, offers a beautifully written, exhaustive and well-reasoned reassessment of John Wilkes Booth and the murder of America's 16th president. The story Kauffman tells, though highly familiar, is also byzantine enough to still capture our attention. More importantly, Kauffman puts a new spin on well-worn data, adding a riveting reinterpretation that paints Booth as a ruthless player of complex games: a darkly brilliant manipulator of people, not all of whom realized what they were a part of until after Lincoln lay dead. Booth reveled in creating false impressions and planting strategic misinformation. One example involves Dr. Samuel Mudd, who set Booth's fractured leg before learning of the assassination and then, frightened for his life, made the mistake of denying knowing the actor. Years later, Gen. David Hunter—ranking member of the military commission that tried and sentenced Mudd to prison—commented: "The Court never believed that Dr. Mudd knew anything about Booth's designs. Booth made him a tool as he had done others." Kauffman's Booth is, in the end, a crazed but skilled puppetmaster who, as part of his endgame, needed to make sure that most of his puppets joined him in martyrdom for the Confederate cause. "Booth immortalized himself by staging one of history's greatest dramas," Kauffman writes. "In the process, he accomplished what every actor aspires to do: he made us all wonder where the play ended and reality began."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

In this thorough review of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, Kauffman seems to have examined everything--documents, places, and artifacts--related to the case. He reports having spent 400 hours in the assassin's home, indicating his dedication to unearthing all the facts about the plots of John Wilkes Booth. Fortunately, dedication doesn't degenerate into obsession with any single angle: Kauffman announces no astounding revelation--such as a link between the assassin and the Confederate government. He does stress, however, the forensic sloppiness of the investigation, albeit without insinuating the wrong people were caught, tried, and hanged. While joining the historical chorus that innkeeper Mary Surratt, whatever her knowledge of the plotters, might not have deserved the rope, Kauffman's tracking of Lewis Powell, David Herold, and George Atzerodt doesn't clear them of consorting with Booth. A levelheaded analysis of the evolution of Booth's plans, Kauffman's book will satisfy the enduring interest in Lincoln's murder. REVWR
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition edition (October 18, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375759743
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375759741
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (103 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #324,289 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Michael W. Kauffman

As historian William C. Davis once wrote, "no one has studied [John Wilkes] Booth longer or more in depth than Michael W. Kauffman, a well-known figure and voice of reason in the field of Lincoln assassination studies."
For thirty-five years, Kauffman has been a fixture at assassination-related symposia, tours, and news events. He has written numerous articles on the subject, and his bus tours of the John Wilkes Booth Escape Route have been a staple of feature publications all over the U.S., making Kauffman "legendary," according to The Washington Post. Taking a full-immersion approach to history, he has rowed across the Potomac where Booth rowed, leaped to the stage in Ford's Theatre, and burned down a tobacco barn almost identical to the one in which Booth was cornered and killed. (It was already slated for demolition!) For a time he even took up residence in Tudor Hall, the Booth family home in Maryland.
Kauffman has written for Civil War Times, the Washington Post, American Heritage, Blue and Gray, and the Lincoln Herald, among others. He has lectured throughout the United States, and has appeared in more than twenty television and radio documentaries, including programs on A& E, The Learning Channel, the History Channel, National Geographic Channel, and the Discovery Channel.
His works include a modern edition of Samuel B. Arnold's Memoirs of a Lincoln Conspirator, as well as American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies, which was named by the New York Times, The Washington Post, and several other media outlets as one of the best non-fiction books of 2004.
The Wall Street Journal named American Brutus one of the five best books ever published on political violence, and Civil War Interactive put it high on the list of Most Important Civil Books Ever Published. It received several awards, including the Walt Whitman Award for the best Civil War-related book of the year.
With an eye for the offbeat, the poignant, and the previously unpublished, Kauffman draws deeply from a wide range of interests. He once knew and worked with the people who developed the concept of criminal profiling, and from that experience, he learned to key in on personality traits and personal interactions. From friends in the legal profession, he learned to ferret out the intricacies and quirks of the law. His acquaintance with famous actors taught him much about the lives and unique concerns of a stage celebrity. With a spirit of fun and curiosity, he takes these insights and weaves an unforgettable tale that is also a delight to read.
American Brutus is not a narrow biography. It is an all-encompassing account of the Lincoln conspiracy and the people behind it. It is the first book on the subject based entirely on primary sources, and it strips away more than a century of myth and folklore. Historian William Marvel calls it "a work that can probably never be equaled in breadth of study, soundness of reasoning, or maturity of judgment." The late historian David Herbert Donald said, "There are many books on [the assassination] but this is by far the best."
With a companion documentary, The Hunt for John Wilkes Booth, that appears regularly on the History Channel, American Brutus has spawned a cottage industry in assassination-related tours.
Now, in response to popular demand, Michael W. Kauffman has put the highlights of his own Booth Escape tours into a stunning and informative book/CD package from TravelBrains, the leader in touring books and software. It is called In the Footsteps of an Assassin. This 161-page book guides the reader across the hills and swamps encountered by John Wilkes Booth on his flight from Washington after the Lincoln assassination. Many of the houses and sites are still much as they were in 1865.
Fully illustrated with maps, rare photos, panoramas, and matching then-and-now images, In the Footsteps of an Assassin is packed with little-known trivia and pictures of family treasures -- much of which you've never seen before.
An accompanying CD and downloadable audio tour let you follow along as you drive. Bring along your smart phone and have your picture taken, via Augmented Reality, with Booth or Lincoln at different points along the way.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This is a wonderful gripping page-turning biography with an assassination of a President at its core. Mr. Kauffman has written history in the style of a novel without sacrificing accuracy or stretching the boundaries of probabilities.

This is the best single description that I have ever read of the night that Lincoln was murdered, at the moment of his greatest glory with the Civil War winding down with the surrender of General Lee earlier in the week. Most of the previous assassination/conspiracies accounts have centered upon Lincoln, with John Wilkes Booth as the mysterious off-stage actor. Mr. Kauffman has written for this generation the definitive story of how Lincoln came to die, with this prominent actor pulling the various strings to accomplish his goal.

"American Brutus" has all the usual suspects (Mary Surrat, Dr. Mudd, David Herold, et al) being manipulated in the elaborate web that Wilkes has weaved for the Confederate cause. One comes away with a sense of what it was like to live in the Washington D.C. region during the Civil War. Current residents (and future visitors) of that region will especially enjoy this book (with its maps) and be able to re-trace Wilkes' escape route, tour Ford's Theater and see the locations where the plotting occurred.

Mr Kauffman had performed exhaustive research without cramming all of it down the throat of the reader. This is a book that a non-reader of history will enjoy and a likely nominee for next year's Pulitzer's Prize for history.
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Format: Hardcover
AMERICAN BRUTUS starts with the assassination of Lincoln. Kauffman quotes just about everybody who was at Ford's theater when it happened: audience members, stage hands, actors etc. Then he moves to the initial investigations and the several law enforcement officers and detectives who were on the trail of the killers. It's hard to keep everybody straight.

Not until Chapter Five do we get a glimpse of Booth's background. His father was also an actor and seemed to get along well with the "rented" slaves he kept. Junius Booth Sr. had no problem with negroes eating at the same table. Kauffman suggests that military school may have had something to do with Booth's attitude toward blacks.

Kauffman hypothesizes that Booth saw himself as a Brutus character. According to Booth, Lincoln was a tyrant, like Julius Caesar, who had trampled on the Constitution. In the picture section, we see John Wilkes acting with his brothers in Julius Caesar, although he played Mark Antony to Edwin's Brutus. Kauffman says John Wilkes played many such characters throughout his career.

There are several other illuminating hypotheses in AMERICAN BRUTUS. One would be that Booth tried to implicate anyone he talked to about the plot, plus several other innocent bystanders. He shows how Dr. Mudd was "set up" by Booth and Surratt. He also shows how Booth tried to do this with Vice President Johnson by leaving him a note prior to the assassination.

Kauffman also works hard at exploding several misconceptions about the assassination. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton is shown taking charge after Lincoln was shot. Far from hating Lincoln, he was genuinely fond of the president. Also, John Wilkes Booth did not break his leg when he jumped from Lincoln's box.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A couple of years ago I had the pleasure of attending the John Wilkes Booth Escape Route tour sponsored by the Surratt Society (...). Mr. Kauffman was the tour guide and I enjoyed the tour greatly. So I looked forward to this book.

Mr. Kauffman has done what other historians have not: he went back to the eye-witness accounts taken on that night and the following days. In other words, he used information that has not been polluted by the exaggeration and imagination of the human memory. For example, immediate eye-witness accounts at Ford's Theater dispell the oft-quoted "fact" that that Booth broke his leg when he jumped from the balcony to the stage.

But this book does not address Booth's escape only. Mr. Kauffman includes additional information about the times. The contemporary reader will be interested in the parallels between 1860-1865 USA and the current status of the USA: a politically polarized nation, criminal profiling (a US Congressman was detained at a train station because he looked somewhat like Booth), sketchy homeland security (the bridges out of DC were like sieves allowing Booth and Herold to escape), a massive military search for the assassins, joyous celebrations in foreign countries and anti-American sentiment following an American tragedy, etc.

Mr. Kauffman's Booth is a consummate villian who carefully and thoughtfully plotted the Lincoln Assassination and who skillfully manipulated numerous people, thus entangling them into his web. His book gives the reader a good idea of the times and shows us that after 130 years, nothing much has really changed.

Wonderful book. Well researched. Well presented.
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Format: Hardcover
This history has three things going for it: first,Kauffman gives just enough detail---unlike some histories that overwhelm the reader with names and dates and mind numbing detail, Kauffman stays with the main characters(for the most part) and lets them emerge as distinct and full bodied people---Booth,vain but with an actor's gift of persuasion; Stanton,hard as nails but who loved(not too strong a word) Lincoln; the various members of the plot, all sinister but with different agendas. Second, he deftly talks about how Lincoln went from the most hated man in 1860 America to the most beloved. Finally(and here is where the book excels)he describes how Booth came to realize that his act made Lincoln a saint,and vivdly portrays Booth's death which was as painful and drawn out as the President's. For lovers of trivia the Coda lets you know what happened to all the main characters.
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