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My Thoughts Be Bloody: The Bitter Rivalry Between Edwin and John Wilkes Booth That Led to an American Tragedy Hardcover – Deckle Edge, October 19, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Family dysfunction brings down a president in this lively if feckless historical melodrama. In her debut, Titone, a historical researcher, says almost nothing about John Wilkes Booth's plot to kill Abraham Lincoln, focusing instead on his backstory and (speculative) psychological motivation. The tale has vibrant leads, including Booth's father, Junius Brutus Booth, a famous tragedian and raging alcoholic, and his domineering brother Edwin, the biggest stage star of the Civil War era. Then there's John Wilkes himself, a narcissist and hilariously bad actor--Titone regales readers with scathing reviews--whose good looks and hammy onstage swordplay drew crowds. The author's sketchy theory of Lincoln's assassination puts it at the confluence of John's self-dramatizing vanity, romantic identification with the underdog South, and sibling rivalry; she presents the murder as a coup de théâtre that finally lets John upstage Edwin. Although overstuffed with digressions, Titone's account paints a colorful panorama of 19th-century theatrical life, with its endless drunken touring through frontier backwaters and showbiz pratfalls. Neither deep nor tragic, her John Wilkes is oddly convincing: the first of the grandiose hollow men in America's cast of assassins.
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From Booklist

If one chooses to do so, one could probably discover a complex of personal demons that supposedly motivated every lone political assassin. So Oswald was acting out his frustration over his failures as a husband and political activist. Sirhan Sirhan was seeking relief from loneliness rather than striking a blow for Palestine. And so on and so on to the point of absurd psychobabble. Yet, given the limitations inherent in such efforts, this is actually a very well-done examination of the trials and tribulations of a remarkable family. The family patriarch, Junius, was a heralded Shakespearean actor, an alcoholic, and an often emotionally abusive parent. His favored son, Edwin, was generally regarded as the greatest American actor of the nineteenth century. Then there was poor John—desperate for his father’s approval, intensely jealous of his brother, and frustrated by his reputation as a mediocre performer. Titone does a fine job of contrasting the personalities and even the acting styles of the brothers. Her portrait of Edwin as a decent man haunted by his brother’s act is often moving. --Jay Freeman

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; First Edition edition (October 19, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416586059
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416586050
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.4 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (80 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #364,332 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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30 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Fink on November 19, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've read a lot of books about the Booths, and I have to say, this is one of the best. I love this book. Hats off to Nora Titone; she has really done her work. Nora has masterfully researched and unearthed clues about the complex inner workings and circumstances that led two brothers along opposite paths during the time of America's greatest upheaval. One brother, whose allegiance was with the north, a supporter of President Abraham Lincoln and became the foremost actor of his time; the other whose allegiance was with the south to the point of obsession, struggled as an actor and assassinated the President, branding the Booth name forever in infamy.

In My Thoughts Be Bloody, the fascinating cast of characters who helped shape Edwin and John Wilkes' drives and ambitions are thoughtfully explored, beginning with their turbulent tragedian father, Junius Brutus Booth. This is the story of a family in turmoil, and it reads like a novel. Why did the two brothers compete with each other to the point of becoming bitter rivals leading to disaster? I believe this book persuasively answers that question and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the Booths, the Civil War, American history, or just a great story.
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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Scott Blaker on November 2, 2010
Format: Hardcover
"My Thoughts Be Bloody", whose title is taken from a line in Shakespeare's "Hamlet", is an absolutely fascinating examination of the lives of an American acting dynasty. The Booths - father, three sons, son- and daughter-in-law - comprised the most influential, yet notorious, family of thespians in 19th century America. Nora Titone has mined hundreds of sources to chronicle the multiple rises and falls of this historic clan in surprising detail. It reads in part like one of the classic tragedies for which the Booth men were famous, and in part like one of the overdrawn melodramas of the age. In an America still small enough that nearly all citizens of note circulated within a relatively small universe, Edwin and John Wilkes Booth contested each other for favor, wealth and social standing. The interrelationships between the players on this stage are entirely engrossing. And as John's fortunes falter while Edwin's star rises, Titone leads us step-by-step to the well-known climax - and the less-familiar final curtain.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Gary T. Johnson on October 20, 2010
Format: Hardcover
The Lincoln bicentennial generated literally hundreds of new books, and, in the end, very few genuine surprises. The surprise here is that the relationship of the two famous Booth brothers is such an obvious subject, yet we knew so little about it. Think of this: A third-rate actor who is the brother of possibly the world's most famous actor stages an episode literally out of Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar." How did this come about? It turns out that their father, too, was a famous actor, but his messy family life on two continents was guaranteed to promote insecurity on top of sibling rivalry. Nora Titone makes great progress with her subject, and I highly recommend this book, but, in the end, questions of motivation can only be somewhat speculative.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Jill Meyer TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 16, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Nora Titone has written a wonderfully readable biography of a family, and of one, mad, act. The "family", is the Booth family and the "act", of course, was the assassination of Abraham Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth.

British actor Junius Brutus Booth fled London with his common-law wife, Mary Ann Holmes in the early 1830's for the United States, where his fame preceded him. He took to the life of the itinerant actor, all up and down the eastern seaboard, presenting the Shakespeare villains to theatre audiences who appreciated his acting. While Junius was on the road, Mary Ann was home, birthing and raising ten children in relative poverty. Of the four sons who reached adulthood, three were actors. Two, Junius Jr and John Wilkes were middling at best and were never overly successful, while son Edwin became the foremost actor and producer of his generation. Junius Sr died early, leaving Edwin, who had long accompanied his father on the road as an aide (mainly to try to keep him sober enough to take the stage) to claim the Booth mantle. And seize it he did, a true acting talent.

As with any family, fissures appear as personalities begin to show themselves. Having received the lion share of the acting talent, Edwin was not above belittling his brothers while supporting the family monetarily. For oldest brother "June", his mediocrity didn't seem to bother him; he made a living and a life for himself. However, younger brother John Wilkes had inherited his father's looks without inheriting his talent, and he was on the edges of the acting profession. He resented Edwin his success, without knowing or acknowledging the long years of preparation Edwin had put in while his father's understudy.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Julie W. Capell on November 26, 2010
Format: Hardcover
The author, Nora Titone, grabbed me from the very first paragraph, in which she describes how Grover Cleveland, President of the United States, battles a blizzard to give a speech at a gala feast that would be attended by Mark Twain and hundreds of the leading figures of 1892. The honoree of the night would be an actor named Booth, an actor with strong ties to President Lincoln, probably the best-known actor of his day. No, not John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of Lincoln, but rather, his brother, Edwin Booth.

Thus begins a mesmerizing account of the growth--and near death by civil war--of a young nation told through the lives of two men who participated in, either directly or indirectly, nearly every important event of the times. From the Gold Rush to the hanging of John Brown to the New York draft riots--and of course the Civil War and the assassination of Lincoln--Edwin Booth and John Wilkes Booth had front row seats. These nation-changing events are described by the author like the sharp jewels they were, terrifyingly dangerous crucibles in which men were either made or lost forever. With diamond-like clarity, Titone presents a stupendous amount of scholarly research in such an accessible and vivid way that even a reader such as myself, most definitely NOT a civil war history buff, becomes completely engrossed in the world being described.

Yet even more than describing a historical moment, the book is an extremely detailed look at the people who lived in that moment, and reads nearly like a novel.
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