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84 of 87 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Death of Lincoln Revisited
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...
Published on November 2, 2004 by C. Hutton

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12 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Started off well but became tiresome
It's obvious that Kauffman did a ton of research for this book, and I enjoyed the first several chapters very much. However, after a while the amount of detail became really tedious; not all of it was relevant, and it was almost as if Kauffman just wanted to pack as much information as he could into the book just for the sake of including everything. By the time I got to...
Published on September 5, 2009 by Charlotte Temple


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84 of 87 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Death of Lincoln Revisited, November 2, 2004
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
4.0 out of 5 stars Myths are exploded!, April 13, 2005
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. Kauffman shows that this notion came from the journal Booth kept during his flight, which was packed with other deliberate fabrications. Most surprising for me, I guess, was Kauffman's portrayal of Lewis Thornton Powell. The myth has it that Powell was insane, but Kauffman shows that Powell's lawyer used an insanity defense during the trail, which may have given historians a wrong idea; Powell was a member of Mosby's Rangers prior to the assassination and faced death bravely.

The trial segment was kind of dull. Eight people were tried by a military tribunal, including a woman. The prosecution did not have to furnish all of the evidence it found to the various defense attorneys. Some of the testimony was faked. Yet, four of the defendants were sentenced to life imprisonment and were eventually pardoned by President Johnson as he left office.

For me, the Coda was the most interesting part of the book as the reader gets to find out what happened to all of the principals later on in life. Henry Rathbone, for instance, who accompanied Lincoln and his wife to the play, never fully recovered from his stabbing and eventually murdered his wife.

Tons of footnotes with occasional commentary within. I'm still reading them.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Compelling History, Well Told, December 23, 2004
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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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, November 5, 2004
By 
Swamp Poodle (Waldorf, MD United States) - See all my reviews
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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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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Book That Reads Like A Movie, March 7, 2007
This review is from: American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies (Paperback)
First of all let me say I don't get to read often, as I usually don't have the time. However, I started to read this book and could not put it down. It holds you from the very beginning, the setting is Fords Theater and you are in the audience. The scene is perfectly described; as if you are actually there, noting who is sitting next to you and who can be seen in the balcony. The book then takes you back, after the chaotic night of the assassination, into Booth's boyhood and earlier life, bringing you right back up to the night of April 14th 1865.

The chase of Booth continues the story and then of course his death and trial of the conspirators. Previous reviews state the book slows during the trial; however I found it to be very interesting. Kauffman goes to great length to explain the law of the time and how different it is than that of today, including arguments over the years about the governments' handlings of the trail.

To me, this book truly reads like a movie, making it easy to picture the story as it unfolds and if you imagine Johnny Depp (a handsome and well loved actor) in the part of John Wilkes Booth one can easily see why this would translate well onto the big screen. Kaufman describes things that are happening, through all the ciaos the night of the assassination to each individual meeting Booth had with his conspirators, with great detail.

History does not paint a pretty picture of Booth, however I believe this book helps to tell the real story of a man who thought he was doing a justice for his country (the South) and not just the normal story your taught in school about a crazy man that shot Lincoln.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sic Semper, October 29, 2006
This review is from: American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies (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!",), here is a book that not only fleshes out that terrible night, but takes us into the investigation much like Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood" did for the Cutter murders of the 1950s. Plunging into Booth's history through the use of eyewitness accounts, letters, archives, and a good knack for putting two and two together, Kauffman shows how some earlier accounts missed or inadvertantly added things to the story (a good example is the alleged guilt of Dr. Mudd, the doctor who treated Booth's broken leg after the fall from the President's box to the stage).

This is great historical reading. It reads easily, brings out information not yet considered, and provides good analysis of that information, both from a psychological and historical viewpoint. I thoroughly enjoyed it and would very much recommend it.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extremely readable and well researched, February 23, 2005
By 
C. Ellen Connally (Cleveland, Ohio USA) - See all my reviews
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Michael Kaufman has devoted much of his adult life to researching the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the circumstances surrounding that trafic event. AMERICAN BRUTUS is a culmination of that work. The book is extremely well written and easy to read. Having a legal background I was particularly interested in the way that Kaufman handled the trials of the accused. He did an excellent job so that lawyers and non lawyers alike will understand the mechanics of the proceedings.

Don't overlook the voluminous footnotes that Kaufman has included.

This is an excellent book for beginners and Lincoln assissination buffs alike.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tour de force, November 24, 2004
By 
Brent M. Jones (Denton, TX United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Michael W. Kauffman has made a major contribution with "American Brutus," a page-turner borne of 30 years of research. The main current of this detailed volume reveals Booth as cunning, manipulative, and far more adroit than many have imagined in luring associates to do his bidding, or in implicating others in his schemes. "American Brutus" is significant also for its many previously unpublished photos and documents. Moreover, the voluminous endnotes are intriguing and invite careful and fascinating reading, time and again.

Throughout this important book, Kauffman's interpretations suggest unhurried analyses, offering many occasions to pause and reflect. Even when his assertions deviate from accepted versions of events, the reasoning is compelling.

For example, a widely held belief is that Booth broke his leg in jumping from Lincoln's box, a view Booth himself encouraged in his self-aggrandizing diary entry. But this is difficult to square with contemporary accounts by startled eyewitnesses (e.g., "We Saw Lincoln Shot," by Timothy S. Good) who described the assassin as dashing athletically across the stage. Orthopedists and physiologists can argue what feats are possible during an adrenaline rush, but one wonders how a man can sprint the stage then mount a horse with his broken left leg without any signs of impairment. Kauffman offers an alternative and entirely believable version of when Booth actually broke his leg.

Mr. Kauffman reinforces the position of Edward Steers ("Blood On The Moon") that the conspirators' fate should be viewed in light of 19th century -- not present -- law. While Mrs. Surratt might not be executed today, nor perhaps would Spangler, O'Laughlen, or Arnold et al receive such lengthy sentences, their judgments followed precedent for that period.

Like a previous reviewer, I was fortunate enough to meet Mr. Kauffman in September 2001 (just before the attacks) durng the Booth Escape Route Tour. Throughout the tour and over lunch, it became evident Mr. Kauffman is a font of knowledge concerning the Lincoln tragedy and aftermath, and I wondered why he had not contributed a significant work. "American Brutus" answers this question in spectacular fashion indeed. Hail Kauffman -- and seize "American Brutus."
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, January 9, 2006
I certainly am not a Lincoln-Booth scholar, but I must admit that I am fascinated by this account. I cannot help but feel that Booth, being the master manipulator that he was,

had planned assassination and NOT kidnapping from the beginning. As he is described here he is obsessed with the treatment he felt the South was getting, and I can't believe he planned only to kidnap Mr. Lincoln in return for southern prisoners. He managed to persuade others around him of his intention to kidnap only to obtain their help, and also to bring them into suspicion in the event of his capture, which he did. The trial and resultant punishment of the guilty parties only reminds me of the reaction we experienced following 9/11 which resulted in the Patriot Act. (So times have probably not changed that much). To bring to trial and to punish the guilty, giving them the death penalty to be carried out within two days of the decision, and all the other details within a month or two seems to be unbelievable and obviously was the result of panic and the seeking of some sort of revenge. Mr. Kaufmann raised many questions still unanswered, but he gave us a fascinating reading by any means.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Ultimate Book on the Lincoln Conspiracy, March 16, 2006
I read a review of a different book dealing with the Lincoln conspiracy that said American Brutus had too many boring details compared to the volume under review. I would have to say that where something as intricate as the conspiracy that ended in the assassination of President Lincoln too much detail is a necessity.

This is a book that is as definitive as one could hope for in tracing the details of a plot. Michael W. Kauffman literally has "lived" the conspiracy over the past 30 years down to taking John Wilkes Booth's escape route and even being present at the final burial of Lewis Powell. Mr. Kauffman delves into the complex plot and lays the fact out in a beautifully written book. Perhaps most riveting is the opening of the book dealing with the assassination of Lincoln, his slow death and events as they unfolded immediately following the murder. We are so accustomed to treating a crime scene with care that it came as a surprised that everyone visited the box in Ford's Theater where the assassination took place, even to the taking of souvenirs by many people.

Mr. Kauffman provides great background information on Booth and the main conspirators. Booth is revealed as a master of deception as he created misinformation and manipulated people. He explains in detail how Booth saw himself as a modern day Brutus who was ridding the world of a tyrant but paying no attention to the fact that, like Brutus, Booth would create a martyr out of Lincoln and the assassin would be condemned, not praised. It was fascinating to read the day by day pursuit of Booth as Mr. Kauffman advances each part of the story, relating who was doing what and where they were down to the progress made by Lincoln's funeral train.

The trial of the conspirators is masterfully told, and we learn how the military court accepted dubious evidence and allowed the prosecution advantages in presenting its case. Mr. Kauffman is very even handed in his presentation and accepts the evidence that he has found without any personal bias; he is an excellent reporter of the facts. This book is certainly a must read for anyone interested in the conspiracy against President Lincoln and it explores Booth as a person and not just an image of infamy.
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American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies
American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies by Michael W. Kauffman (Paperback - October 18, 2005)
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