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


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American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies + Blood on the Moon: The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln + Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer (P.S.)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks (October 18, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375759743
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375759741
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.2 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (85 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #115,098 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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.

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

4.6 out of 5 stars
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The book is extremely well written and easy to read.
C. Ellen Connally
Fantastic book about the assassination of President Lincoln and motives of John Wilkes Booth and the conspirators he associated with.
Bryn C. Dunham
I would recommend it to anyone interested in the Lincoln assassination.
Kris Bailey

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

84 of 87 people found the following review helpful By C. Hutton on November 2, 2004
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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35 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Dave Schwinghammer VINE VOICE on April 13, 2005
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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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Kelly L. Norman VINE VOICE on October 29, 2006
Format: Paperback
Hundreds imprisoned in American jails with no expectation of probable cause, including a third of the Maryland state legislature. Prisoners shrouded in hoods. Citizens having to sign "loyalty statements" before they vote. Some kind of scenario dreamt up for a modern movie mimicking the current US regime? Nope. It's a description of the wartime policies of the first Republican administration, Abraham Lincoln's. And according to Michael W. Kauffman's brilliantly lain out narrative of Lincoln's assasination and its aftermath, the tension these policies led to in Maryland, especially, was quite palpable.

Since Maryland was a border state....Union, but Southern by culture and values (some in Maryland had slaves), many had mixed feelings about the war and about any support for the Union cause. Enter John Booth, son of famous stage actor Junius Brutus Booth, and soon to become an even greater star. John Booth seethed with anger throughout the war, even as he built his acting career, until he began to hatch the plot that took place at Ford's theater on the night of April 14, 1865. Part of what motivated him, however, was the praise and cheers he thought he'd get from over the country after his deed was done. And much of his story plays out as a twisted version of Shakespeare's "Julius Ceasar" (one in which John and his brothers had often starred), where the assasin Brutus, instead of being honored as in the play, is hunted down, injured, and finally killed as he hides in a burning barn.

Though we may know the "facts" of the story from junior high school history (Ford's theater, "Our American Cousin", "Sic semper tyranis!
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