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on November 20, 2011
I had high hopes for this book, especially since O'Reilly himself promoted it as not just a retelling of well-known facts but a study of how the assassination changed U.S. history. But sadly, it was merely a retelling of well-known facts, but without the accuracy I expected.

There were many errors and misstatements. O'Reilly refers to Lincoln meeting with others in the Oval Office, but that office did not exist until a century later. This is a minor point, but when you read a history you expect to find a dedication to factual information and not a sloppy rendition of events.

A lot of space early in the book was given to retelling of the many last battles of the Civil War leading up to its end. This military part added nothing of value and was not especially well written either. I think O'Reilly was trying to make the point that it was the South's surrender that somehow caused Booth to proceed with the assassination. But in fact, the timing had nothing to do with Booth's long-standing plans. He may have been spurred into action by the surrender of Lee's army, but was it necessary to recount several battles in plodding detail? No.

The book was not especially well crafted, either. Aside from the dozens of careless mistakes (like reporting a soldier's rank as sergeant and in the next sentence calling him private - lots of errors like this), the story just was not interesting. I have read many versions of Lincoln's last days that were better told, and O'Reilly's book was not one of them.

Especially disappointing was the conclusion in which he speculated that some members of the cabinet might have been involved in the plot, including reference to a missing 18 pages in Booth's journal. The implications of this idea were told in detail in a book, "The Lincoln Conspiracy," but that was a collection of highly selective facts. Citing those ideas took away any hint of historical credibility from O'Reilly.

I have enjoyed his television show, although most recently he is wearing thin. This book has convinced me once and for all that O'Reilly is not an historian, but a warmed-over "Inside Edition" host - better at gossip and sensationalism but not a serious journalist, and absolutely not an effective historian.
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on December 16, 2012
I was goaded into reading Bill O'Reilly's book about the Lincoln assassination by friends and by the hype on O'Reilly's TV show --- which I have not deigned to watch since suppertime on election night. O'Reilly and his writer are no David McCullough, no David Halberstam, no Joseph Ellis. When it comes to cobbling together a story from a nearly limitless supply of potential elements, O'Reilly and his writer do not venture into the same ballpark with the quality writers of history and biography.

By contrast, the book actually includes an 1865 article from Harpers (in the Appendix) recounting the assassination. It was as if O'Reilly wanted to shout out to us: "Yes, I do know what better writing looks like; and this is an example for you to compare."

O'Reilly says that his book is written like a thriller. I missed that entirely.

Yes, I know, O'Reilly was once a school teacher; perhaps he should reconsider floating that to us as a bragging point.

Apparently, O'Reilly is upset with how much of history has been re-written and/or expunged from the history texts used in today's government schools. And on that one point I share the enthusiasm that students be encouraged to break free from the text book tyranny.

The stark absence of scholarly style suggests to me that O'Reilly may have been targeting a junior high audience. And, I understand that a "special illustrated" version was so quickly released that junior high must have been part of the author's original vision for this work.

Along with scholarly style comes scholarly method: there is some hint that some of the details are fabricated for this telling: yes, "made up." Since I read this one on my Kindle, I didn't make notes in the margins to refer back to. Actually, this is a great book for the Kindle --- since the book itself wouldn't lend much stature to your library shelves.

O'Reilly did not claim to have actually written this book, but he does want to take credit for bringing together the parts of the story he wanted to tell; he refers to this as "doing the research." The other part of doing the research was scheduling vacation visits to the various historical sites: that's what we mean today by "research."

What about the history and the new insights? Well, there were no sweeping insights for me; but I was on the lookout for a new perspective or even an new aspect from which to view the major conflicts at play. But alas, I didn't find anything new or insightful -- unless you count the implication that General Grant was henpecked by his wife, Julia. I want corroboration before I accept even that as historically correct.

The stunning slaughter that was the Civil War is mostly lost on students today. O'Reilly does offer up a picture of full-speed slaughtering, right up to the very end of the war. An interested junior high student could then look into the issue further in other works.

I noticed on 12.15.2012 that O'Reilly's companion book, "Killing Kennedy," was #2 on CSPAN's bestseller list; a Pulitzer Prize winning author was #3; and "Killing Lincoln" was #4. This may or may not be an indictment on the reading discrimination of Americans, but it does seem to scream out that these books are being pumped out for some quick cash since O'Reilly has a rich advertising pulpit from which to promote his wares
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First of all, I'll admit it. I did read the entire book, cover to cover. I'll also admit, and better than that, confirm that I not a big fan of "The O'Reilly" factor, where this book was apparently hyped. Still... based on some recommendations, I decided to give it a try, either to confirm my opinions of the man, or, better yet, possibly revise them. There could have been a facet I was completely missing. Alas, it was a confirmation: the book was written, apparently by Martin Dugard, to be a "good story," and, "a thriller," so it is. Overall, the facts are correct: Booth did kill Lincoln in Ford Theater, and Lee did surrender to Grant. But in terms of history, there was much amiss, and since I am not a civil war "scholar" or "buff", I didn't realize how much, until I read some of the more than 1000 1-star reviews. I did pick up on one glaring error: how could 30 million people have lined the railroad tracks to watch Lincoln's funeral train pass, when the entire population of the entire United States, north, south, west, slaves and kids, was 31 million in 1860? In terms of some of the good reviews out there, that detail many of the other factual errors, like there was no "Oval Office" in the White House until the 20th Century, I'd recommend the one written by Anthony Ford and another by, yes, "A. Lincoln."

The book starts six weeks before Lincoln is assassinated, with Federal troops before Petersburg, which has been under siege for the better part of a year, and Lincoln is nearby hoping to see it finally taken. The Confederate troops are ill-supplied, as they have been for a long time, and are on the point of starvation. Petersburg does fall, as does the capital of the Confederacy, Richmond, shortly thereafter. I was surprised by the account of Lincoln actually going to Jeff Davis's office there, but I have not seen that disputed on a factual basis. Lee continues to maneuver the remnants of his Army, hoping to score some food, and make it to the Carolinas to regroup. Grant does have other plans, and pursues him to the end, at Appomattox Court House, after the savage battle at Sayler Creek. Dugard alternates chapters detailing the military collapse of the Confederacy with Booth's plans, along with a ragtag group of co-conspirators, to kill Lincoln. As in other thrillers, the author throws in dollops of... and one can almost hear the suspense music in the background, of premonitions of death. There is the "added spice" of a possible co-conspirator being Lincoln's own Secretary of War, Stanton. And in docudrama style, for example on p. 95, Dugard provides quotes around what Booth thinks to himself in a bar: "Outraged, he steps into a tavern and knocks back a drink. John Wilkes Booth thinks hard about what comes next. `Our cause being almost lost, something decisive and great must be done,' he tells himself."

It has been a long time since I've read Bruce Catton's Terrible Swift Sword: The Centennial History of the Civil War, Volume Two or Shelby Foote's Shiloh: A Novel. This is an essential part of American history that I should read a better account of, and thanks to other reviewers, it seems to be available: Edward Steers (Blood on the Moon). Sadly, I've fallen for some other fanciful recreations of American history, for example, Stephen Ambrose's Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West. Dugard's deficiencies are all the greater than Ambrose's. History might be written by the victors, as the old saw has it, but it should not be delegated to those who simply... with the emphasis on that word, want to tell a good, fast-paced story, of good and evil, shorn of complexities. 2-stars for this effort.
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on May 8, 2013
If you want a good, fact-filled book about the conspiracy to assassinate Lincoln, read the award-winning best seller "Manhunt" by James L. Swanson. It's basically Killing Lincoln, without the previously-debunked conspiracy theories, twisted facts, and what seemed to me like a rushed ending. Killing Lincoln greatly lacks the depth and content you can find plenty of in Manhunt. The ONLY positive thing I can really say about Killing Lincoln was that the first few chapters gloss over the final battles of the Civil War to serve as a bit of a preface. But even that lacks much detail, so while it's one thing that Manhunt doesn't have, it's certainly not the best account of those battles I've ever read either.
And for those of you that are interested in the audiobook, you'll probably be even more disappointed with Killing Lincoln. O'Reilly is a very boring reader. His voicework totally lacks any feeling, and almost seems as if he's lost interest in reading a few minutes in. It's basically read in the tone of a news report. And that gets old after the first 30 minutes or so.
So while I won't say Killing Lincoln was a complete waste of time, I know I certainly wouldn't be missing anything if I hadn't read it.
**If you're determined to read this book -- I have one bit of advice to give, I STRONGLY suggest you read Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer by James L. Swanson BEFORE reading Killing Lincoln by Bill O'Reilly. You won't regret it.
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on February 10, 2013
I'm only halfway through the book, but as I'm reading I keep hearing Bill O'Reilly's voice narrating it in my head. Am I going crazy? My wife explained to me that there is a difference between historical fiction and historical narrative. Either way, Bill takes the approach of explaining what the characters are thinking which seems to put it in the historical narrative camp. Does it make for interesting reading? Maybe, but for a guy who makes a living talking about the 'No Spin Zone' he seems to be doing a lot of spinning in how he wrote the book. :-) I doubt I'll read the next 'Killing JFK' book. Bill got enough of my money with this one.
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on February 14, 2013
This book pales in comparison to Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin, which I read previously. Killing Lincoln was delivered in a sensationalistic style, very much like a tabloid news show. The conspiracy theories shared at the end of the book were shallow at best. I learned a great deal reading the Goodwin book. I learned very little reading this book.
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on January 17, 2012
Many have noted the historical inaccuracies. The book is interesting to read - up to a point. For me the reading experience was spoiled by the dubious authenticity on several levels. If one claims that there are unanswered questions about the possible involvement of Secretory of War Stanton in the assassination of Lincoln, one better have more than some purported missing pages in Booth's diary. And one better have citations, of which there were none. Even historical fiction often has citations for specific historical information.

Other egregious examples....

Lincoln's office was in what is now known as the Lincoln Bedroom. It is a square room and was never known as the "Oval Office." That term was first used in 1909 for the first of several Oval Offices in the West Wing, which was finished in 1901.

A claim is made that baskets of fruit were sent to the White House with fruit which had been injected with poison and that the fruit was tested before Lincoln could safely eat it. This is an astounding claim to make without citation. How was the fruit injected with poison, what kind of poison and how was it tested? Testing fruit for poisons is a challenge in the 21st century, let alone the 1860s.

Claims are made about the imprisonment of Mary Surratt aboard the Montauk shackled and hooded. This is simply a false claim and one easily checked.

There is just no excuse for calling a book historical and making these kinds of errors. As I noted, even most historical fiction writers try to be historically accurate about well documented historical fact.

It is interesting that several reviewers stated that they learned things in this book which they had not learned in history class or from other history books and that this was praiseworthy. Of course if one just makes up stuff it will not be something found in other history books. Maybe we need a new category for books about history - in addition to the standard categories of History and Historical Fiction we should have one for books like this one: History Made More Interesting
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on December 29, 2011
This book is long on drama and short on authenticity. O'Reilly apparently didn't spend much time on research or he would know that the Confederate battle flag was NOT the Stars and Bars. The Stars and Bars flag was the national flag, which consisted of a red stripe, white stripe, and another red stripe with a field of blue containing a circle of stars. If you want to see what it looked like today just look at the most recent Georgia state flag. The battle flag, which is the most familiar one in history, is a variant of the St. Andrews Cross flag of antiquity.

Then O'Reilly goes Hollywood by describing the approaching Union army with the sun glistening on their bayonets. Please, Mr. O'Reilly! Bayonets were seldom used and when affixed to the barrel of a musket made it dangerous if not impossible to load. After all, these were muzzle loaders. Imagine trying to ram a cartridge down the barrel with a bayonet in the way. Bayonets were carried on the soldier's belt and only affixed to the barrel if a bayonet charge was imminent. O'Reilly's biggest offense is his repetitive use of telling us what someone was thinking. What? O'Reilly has psychic powers to see into someone's mind? This device alone reduces the book to historical fiction.

I will say it was an entertaining read, but not reliable as a history book. So, I am giving it more than one star just for the entertainment value.
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on March 18, 2013
Let me say right out of the gate that I enjoyed reading this book. Yes, some scholars have critiqued the book, noted a few discrepancies, and questioned certain observations. But overall, the authors did a good job of writing about a high profile historical event in an engaging way. And though I've read a lot about the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln the man and the president, and his assassination, still, I learned a few things. In particular, I gained new details and perspectives regarding John Wilkes Booth, the extent of the plot he masterminded, and the other human beings drawn into the evil.

In my estimation the authors were successful in their stated attempt to make this hugely significant event accessible to a broad range of readers. The story moves along at a good pace, the feelings and perspectives of key individuals involved are expressed and explored, and the socio-political impact of what happened is explained. The only writing convention that I thought got a little old is the repeated reference to "the man with 5 weeks to live," etc. To be fair, these comments are accurate and add to the poignancy of the story. Perhaps I reacted to them because I'd just finished reading the later volume in the authors' series, Killing Kennedy, wherein the phrase is repeatedly used for dramatic purposes in that book as well.

This book reminds us again of Abraham Lincoln's greatness as a leader, rooted in his faith, character, vision, and incredible resolve. Would that we counted more such leaders today.

Despite the fact one author is a high profile television journalist with a reputation for aggressiveness the story is not an ideological diatribe or even a political statement as such. Frankly, I was pleasantly surprised, and I now highly recommend this book.
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on February 1, 2013
I've now read both Killing Lincoln and Manhunt by James L. Swanson. Manhunt hard far more detail and was more suspenseful. And, Manhunt seemed to be better researched. Swanson took the time to tell the story. O'Reilly seemed to be in a hurry.
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