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American Gothic: The Story of America's Legendary Theatrical Family-Junius, Edwin, and John Wilkes Booth Hardcover – September, 1992

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Exemplary scholarship and deep feelings shape this portrait of the Booth family, a worthy successor to the author's Lee and Grant and his other well-received historical biographies. As events unfold against a wonderfully detailed evocation of the 19th century, Junius Brutus thrills audiences with his portrayals of Shakespeare's King Lear and Richard III, despite his notorious madness. His equally gifted sons were totally different from their father and each other. A great actor, Edwin could barely utter a word offstage; he was painfully depressed and afraid he too might lose his mind. John Wilkes seems to have been sane: a handsome man beloved by women, gregarious, popular, as admired as Edwin in certain roles. When Robert E. Lee surrendered, however, John's commitment to the Southern cause turned his thoughts to revenge, culminating in his assassination of President Lincoln. In vivid detail Smith reveals the murder's dreadful impact on the Booths and numerous others, mostly innocent victims of a tragedy Shakespeare might have written. Illustrations not seen by PW. First serial to American Heritage; Reader's Digest Condensed Books selection.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Told with all the color, pathos, and drama of a Shakespearean tragedy, this is the tale of the Booth family, which counted among its members some of the finest American actors of the 19th century as well as the first assassin of a U.S. president. Noted and notorious, the Booths are important figures not only in the history of the American theater but in the history of America itself. At times, their lives offstage eclipse their dramatic roles. Junius, the father, was an acclaimed Shakespearean actor plagued by insanity; son Edwin portrayed Hamlet 100 times (a record broken only by Lionel Barrymore) and constantly feared that he might inherit his father's affliction; and son John, handsome and flamboyant, performed his most dramatic role as Lincoln's killer. Historical, theatrical, and biographical details abound in this worthy addition to any theater or history collection.
- Carolyn M. Mulac, Chicago P.L.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 286 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (September 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0671767135
  • ISBN-13: 978-0671767136
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.5 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #705,412 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By M. Horton on June 3, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have quite a collection of books relating to the Maryland legendary family of players; the Booths. This book is by far one of the best. Even though it goes through a lot of the family history that I have read of before, it is a great read and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in reading about this tragic family. Michael Kauffman, author of American Brutus contributed some information for the author, even before he was published himself.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By M. S. Driver on September 10, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As the two reviews below demonstrate, many people might read this book just to find out more about Lincoln's assassin. From the post-Civil War era to this day, "assassin" is the only translation of the name "Booth" that most people understand.

But Gene Smith gives us the rest of the story of a theatrical "dynasty", and the depth of his research is amazing, at least in my opinion. Yes, there were other Booths besides John Wilkes, and other reasons for memorializing this family besides Presidential death. No one today remembers the father, Junius Brutus Booth, a wonderfully boisterous, crazy old drunk and ground-breaking actor who was adulated like a rock star in his time. Edwin and John, two out of the nine or ten (legitimate and illegitimate) progeny of JBB, surpassed their father, and Edwin has been called the greatest American tragedian who ever lived.

Like any biographer, Mr. Smith puts flesh on these characters, with a particular eye toward trying to rehabilitate John. It is a lyrical, touching, sympathetic story full of little-known details: John's body finally being released to his mother from its secret basement hole for reburial in the family plot; Edwin burning his brother's theatrical trunk and every costume and prop in it, under the rueful eyes of a long-time servant; the spontaneous, disastrous collapse of the original Ford's Theater building, seemingly at the moment of the death of Edwin; a certain hummock in the median strip of a Virginia freeway, the site of the house on whose porch the "unfortunate" Johnny sucked his life away.

But Mr. Smith doesn't really answer the question of why Johnny did it. His (purported) fiancee, Lucy Hale, was a Yankee. John's animus seemed to be directed at Lincoln himself rather than the U.S. Republic. Maybe it was partly theatrics and partly the family tendency toward insanity.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By C.A. Arthur on May 5, 2010
Format: Hardcover
The story of the Booths is one of the most fascinating in this country's history. Unfortunately, this is far from being a definitive history. The text has many dreadful sentences, and the author or his editor (assuming there was one)finds paragraphs difficult to manage. The concluding chapter is especially embarrassing, laced as it is with mawkish sentimentality.

Still, the book is worth reading. Gene Smith seems have to have worked in numerous primary sources, and at times he shows a fine ability to describe and analyze. This is pop history, which in itself does not make it bad. It's just that it should have been much better.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Sylvia J. Rzeminski on July 31, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This unlike a recently published book by Bill O'reilly is excellently researched. Gene Smith fives insights to what formed the character of John Wilkes Booth. This is the second time I have bought this book since I gave away my original copy. Worth its weight in gold
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