208 of 222 people found the following review helpful
on February 25, 2006
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
The most notoriously infamous murder in American history occurred on Good Friday April 14, 1865. President Lincoln was
shot with a derringer by John Wilkes Booth (1838-April 26, 1865) in a murder most foul!Booth came from the most renowned acting family America. He was a superb actor, rake and handsome man who favored Southern Independence, hated the blacks and viewed Lincoln as a tyrant. Booth killed Lincoln after several earlier kidnap schemes went awry.
As an avid Civil War buff and student of the Lincoln assassination this is one of the two best books on the murder of the railspliter. The other great book on this topic is Edward Steers.Jr's classic "Blood On the Moon."
This book is not as dry as Steers book and could serve as the basis of a motion picture or better yet mini-series on the horrific event.
In great detail Swann tells us what really happened on the 12 day flight by Booth and his fellow conspirator David Herold on their flight to the Garrett family barn near Port Royal, Va. where Booth was shot to death by Sergeant Boston Corbett and
Herold was captured. (Herold along with George Atzerdot; Mary
Surratt and Lewis Powell would die on the scaffold on July 7, 1865.
Powell had sought to kill Secretary of State Seward in his bed where he was recovering from a painful carriage accident. He failed. George Atzerodt failed to even try to assassinate Vice President Andrew Johnson living in the Kirkwood Hotel.
If you want to excite a young person in American history this is a wonderful place to begin. Swann can write well and simply about complex events regarding the assassination. Finishing this book I have a new respect for Secretary of War Edwin Stanton who led the manhunt for the killers.
The book has many period illustrations, letters from the participants in the ghoulish search and a final chapter alerting us to the fate of the chief characters in this American Tragedy.
I stayed up until 1 AM last night reading this excellent and
exciting book. Very well recommended!
63 of 66 people found the following review helpful
on February 24, 2006
I've read several accounts of the death of Lincoln and its aftermath over the past 50 years, but not any of the recent publications, until picking this off the library shelf last week. I enjoyed it immensely. The flaws mentioned by prior reviewers are probably justified, but if, like me, the weakest part of your Lincoln lore was the escape and capture of Booth, this is a sufficient remedy for that gap. It is detailed enough, with interesting notes, yet it does read like a novel. One comes to feel sorry for Booth's suffering on his 12-day run, while not excusing his foolish crime, which did the South more harm than good. More photos would have been nice, including some modern views of the Maryland/Virginia locations. I've been to Ford's Theater and the Peterson House, and Swanson's treatment of those locales is nicely done. Although billed as the story of the manhunt, Lincoln does not die until page 139 of a nearly 400-page text, so the actual killing, and the simultaneous attack on Secretary of State Seward, are depicted in more-than-adequate detail.
75 of 81 people found the following review helpful
on February 16, 2011
There is no doubt that this is a compelling page turner, well written and researched. But upon finishing and taking a step back, it leaves an imperfect, maybe even unsettling, impression with me
First, in a sense, "Manhunt" might not be the best title, because while it does chronicle the 12-days that Booth was on the run, it is largely told through his eyes, not those of his pursuers. So maybe "Flight" or "On The Run" might give anyone who hasn't read it a more accurate idea of the narrative.
Second, the author clearly takes generous liberties in filling in the thoughts and motives of everyone involved, especially Booth, to the point where the reader has to wonder whether the narration has crossed the line from non-fiction to fictional novelization.
Put the two together, and you have the bigger issue -- a jarringly sympathetic portrait of Booth. Which is not to say that Booth didn't have sympathetic qualities or even believe in actions were justified. He surely must have. But I found too often, especially as the book wears on and the narrative becomes even more focused on Booth, that the author brushes aside his obvious flaws - among them his extreme bigotry, violent streak, hot temper and consistent deception of friend and foe alike - to paint him as something of a martyr. As the book nears its close, the author really seems to go all in, depicting Booth's pursuers as incompetent glory seekers and Booth... well, I'm telling the truth here, there's actually one passage in which a character who helps authorities is compared to Judas and another passage with a direct comparison of Booth to Jesus as he lay dying and tended to.
Again, there's much to like about this book and I recommend reading it. But since so many people have given it such sterling (5 star) reviews, I thought I would try to communicate a bit about what bothered me about the narrative. It's very good, but can't see it as 5 stars.
48 of 51 people found the following review helpful
on February 13, 2006
I have been reading about the Lincoln assassination for over 45 years and this is the best book to date. It is riviting, filled with heretofore unrevealed details and updates. A wonderful read! Mr Swanson has done a lot of research and has woven a thrilling story...yet it is all true! He could not make these things up! Great book. Thanks
25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on June 5, 2006
History is made vividly exciting in this detailed and well-written account of a critical event in United States history. Swanson has the instinct of a novelist, but every word of this page-turner is true. Don't start reading this book unless you have blocked out some time. You won't want to put it down. Everybody quotes Paul Harvey at about this point, and I will, too. If you think you know everything there is to know about the Lincoln assassination, think again. Swanson gives you "the rest of the story." John Wilkes Booth was a Shakespearean actor whose personal story is as Shakespearean as even the Bard himself could create. To Booth, all the world really was a stage and in jumping from the box at Ford's Theater he thought he was playing the role of a lifetime. Indeed, he was. Swanson helps us saddle up and ride with Booth on his frantic escape through Maryland and into Virginia, where he thought he would be haled as a hero. If you love history. If you like to feel as if you are there, you will treasure this book.
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on June 1, 2006
Manhunt tells a fascinating story that has been hidden in plain site. Virtually all Americans with any eductation know that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated at Ford's Theater in Washington D.C. His assassin, the infamous John Wilkes Booth, an accomplished actor, escaped, but broke his leg jumping from Lincoln's box on to the stage, and was later shot and killed. Perhaps the details of the story are overwhelmed by the sheer tragedy of the assassination along with the drama, sense of triumph and celebration, and relief the end of the Civil War. Lincoln's death is painful history for me, and detailed descriptions of his assassination, killer, his co-conspirators, and subsequent manhunt seemed too unpleasant a subject to dwell on. Books such as "American Brutus" have been written recently past, but I had no desire to read them solely because of the subject matter.
When I received Manhunt as a gift I inwardly signed and wondered if it was a book I would actually read, let alone enjoy. However, I was hooked quickly. The first page describes John Wilkes waking up on April 14, 1865 and reflecting on what a bad month it had been so far (fall of Richmond and Lee's surrender at Appomattox). From that point, assassination day is described from the perspective of both Booth and Lincoln. The reader learns that Booth headed a real-life conspiracy, not something that arose from conjecture, a convoluted hypothesis, and thin evidence after the fact. This conspiracy first aimed to kidnap Lincoln and take him to Richmond. Assassination became Booth's aim after the kidnapping plot broke down and he became frustrated and vengeful as the Civil War closed. The final conspiracy did not stop with Lincoln as Secretary of State Charles Seward and Vice-President Andrew Johnson were also targets. Booth comes alive as do many others involved his plot and also many on the Union side.
The assassination of Lincoln is painstakingly detailed by the author and gives the early part of the book an air of a Greek tragedy. The aftermath is fascinating as we learn of Lincoln's last hours, the efforts to treat him, and the reactions of those around him. An attempt to assassinate Seward almost succeeded and left him and also some of his family members and aides badly wounded. Meanwhile the attempt on Johnson did not really get started as the conspirator assigned got cold feet. Besides dealing with the grief over Lincoln, it was feared that many other leaders of the government were at risk of assassination. In addition, despite Lee's surrender by Civil War was by now means over (with many Confederate soldiers still in the field) and a flare up of Southern resistance was seen as a very real possibility.
After Lincoln's death the focus of the book turns to the manhunt for Wilkes. Despite his broken leg Booth did manage to escape in a swashbuckling manner and gained the assistance of sympathizers (and a few not sympathetic) during twelve days on the lam in Maryland and Virginia. Booth was joined by one of his band who was with him to the end. Documented statements by many on both sides (including some late life statements many years after the fact) and also Wilkes' diary provide a great deal of information of this flight. Generally the pall of Lincoln's assassination lifts and the readers is given a fascinating account of the manhunt and even begins to look at Wilkes at his cohorts as real people in a desperate situation rather than historical ciphers. However, Lincoln is not forgotten as the reader is let in on Wilkes' dismay when reading newspapers and hearing of the grief over Lincoln's death and his ascent to secular sainthood.
I strongly recommend this book to everybody who enjoys reading history and also to those who enjoy true crime stories. Manhunt tells a story that every American should know to gain a complete perspective of April 1865.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on November 7, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition
A lot has been written about over the years about Abraham Lincoln and his assassination but few books rise to the level of this excellent book or take it's unique approach. Where as other books deal with the assassination and conspiracy leading up to it this one deals simply with the flight of John Wilkes Booth afterwards and his 12 days on the run.
In his book Swanson deals with not just the Xs and Os of the manhunt but also with Booth's own thoughts and feelings during his escape. Using Booth's diaries and information from people he had contact with along the way we see into Booth's thought processes. Booth felt initially that he would be considered a hero but is shocked to soon discover that he is being condemned both in the north and south. We see in his diary that he now goes into what we would call today damage control mode. He begins to explain in his diary about why he did it, painting himself as a great hero. In reality he comes across as an extreme narcissist.
The book itself is very well written with the feeling almost of a good novel. Swanson shows that he is not only a superb historical scholar but an extremely talented writer. The history genre in books is full of fine scholars but few can match Swanson's writing skill. The result is a book that reads very easy and yet has extreme depth.
I greatly recommend this book for anyone interested in the civil war era. It makes a marvelous companion to Blood on the Moon: The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln which covers the actual assassination and conspiracy.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on February 28, 2006
Coming from the perspective of someone who has read the major works of that most terrible night in American History (Jim Bishop's "The Day Lincoln was Shot", Carl Sandburg's works, "Myths After Lincoln" by Lloyd Lewis, "Twenty Days" - and Jay Winik's masterful "April 1865", one might think that there would be nothing new - and why another dreadful tome?
Swanson's approach however, is novel in that he does not concentrate on Abraham Lincoln, the tragic end of a good man - or as Sandburg wrote sadly "For Abraham Lincoln it was lights out, good night, farewell, and a long farewell to the good earth and its trees, its enjoyable companions, and the Union of States and the world Family of Man he had loved". He concentrates on the man whom Sandburg called "The Outsider" and his accomplices, and how they were mercilessly tracked down, until Booth's final and fittingly inglorious end by a blazing barn. Swanson sheds new light on those who either wittingly or unwittingly aided and abetted Booth. The book reads like a detective novel with a fine narrative flow of the events of April 14, 1865 and the bloody aftermath.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on March 7, 2006
Like many people, I've always known the basic facts of the Lincoln assassination (I've even been to Ford's Theater), but this book provided many interesting details that I'd never heard before. I was especially interested in the insights provided about Booth's co-conspirators, and their efforts to kill Vice-President Johnson and Secretary of State Seward (the forgotten victim of that night). Like many, I believed the version of events that painted Dr. Mudd as an innocent, he certainly wasn't.
Although this book is chock full of interesting facts, I couldn't give it 5 stars because, frankly, it wasn't very well written (and/or edited). There is much repitition of the "facts", sometimes within a few paragraphs of one another, and a lot of unnecessary verbage. I also found the author's characterization of the main player's thought processes somewhat sappy and overly melodramatic. Regardless, a very interesting read.
68 of 87 people found the following review helpful
on February 18, 2006
Noted Lincoln historian James L. Swanson pens a historical novel in the genre of Jeff and Michael Shaara now famous Civil War trilogy. Swanson not only takes you there, he places you in the mind and soul of John Wilkes Booth, those who hid him, and those who tracked him. Though surely a page turner, this is no quick read, weighing in at well over 400 pages. However, if you love history, mystery, and detective stories, then Swanson has woven them all into "Manhunt." Even readers with a love for the Civil War will find the account of these twelve days filled with never learned or frequently forgotten details. "Manhunt" is well worth reading both for its historical depth and its psychological awareness.
Reviewer: Bob Kellemen, Ph.D., is the author of "Soul Physicians," "Spiritual Friends," "Martin Luther's Counseling," "Biblical Psychology," and "Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction."