Customer Reviews: Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination that Changed America Forever
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on January 20, 2012
It seems that most reviews of the book are by one of two types of reviewers: 1. the reviewer either loves or hates O'Reilly, or 2. the reviewer either loved or hated how it was written. Here is my take, leaving the personal feelings about the author aside, Killing Lincoln delivers on its mission. Many rip O'Reilly apart for it not being an in depth treatment of his death and surrounding events. Here's a news flash: it's not supposed to be. It is not written as a doctoral dissertation on the subject nor is it intended to be. It is not intended to give every detail about what happened. It is intended to be an engaging read that follows the events surrounding Lincoln's last days. It is intended to be written from the perspective of putting the reader on the streets of D.C. during those days, putting you into Ford's Theater the night of the killing. In that regard it delivers. Here is my recommendation for this book: give this book to someone that you want to get interested in history. Give it to a student and let them see that history does not have to be boring. Give it to someone that loves novels, but hates non-fiction and let them discover how engaging and important history is and can be. On that level O'Reilly delivers.
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on April 23, 2012
I absolutely loved this book. First, since it seems to be an issue in the reviews, Mr. O'Reilly and I are opposites politically. I never watch his show. After reading the reviews, I bought, instead, Edward Steers' Blood on the Moon. I am sorry, I know it is well researched, and painstakingly accurate, but it didn't keep my attention. After several weeks, I was only at 17% in my Kindle when I decided to buy Bill O'Reilly's book. WOW! I could not put it down and read it in two sittings. You feel like you are right there watching the events. I have never experienced Civil War battles as I did these. I have never really known Abraham Lincoln before now. I have never fully appreciated the reasons behind the war. While reading, I was on the battlefield, I shared Mr. Lincoln's thoughts and feelings, I was there with the young doctor tending to Lincoln after he was shot, and I experienced John Wilkes Booth's pain as he attempted to escape after breaking his leg. This book is powerful. This book takes you there, and you will long remember the names and events. This is the best book I have read in a long time. Thank you, Mr. O'Reilly.
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on October 3, 2011
As someone who has studied Lincoln and books on the assassination since I was about 8 (that would be, sigh, about 50 years), I figured I'd give O'Reilly's book a try, assuming that since he had written it so shortly after some great Lincoln books (Abraham Lincoln: A Life, by Michael Burlingame; Blood on the Moon by Edward Steers) that there must be something unique about it. Unfortunately, I came away not really seeing what the new approach was. While it is supposedly written like a thriller, I find it to be prone to abbreviation and errors as noted by one of the one-star reviewers here (i.e. talking about the Oval Office, which was not built when Lincoln was president, but in 1909 when Taft was president, and a gross misrepresentation of how Mary Surratt was treated -- she NEVER wore a hood while imprisoned, and she was NEVER on the "Montauk", etc.). Throwing in a long-discredited conspiracy theory supposedly linking Secretary of War Edwin Stanton into the mix was completely unnecessary, unless the idea was to give readers already convinced that JFK was assassinated by space aliens something new to obsess over. A list of errors written by the Assistant Superintendent of the Ford's Theatre Historical Site, by no means complete, but enough for the NPS Eastern National bookstore at Ford's Theatre to avoid selling this book, may easily be found on the internet (I will be glad to give you the link if you can't find it). The Theatre gift shop IS selling it, but not the National Park Service store, due to inaccuracies. You will see many reviews here (five-star ones) stating that "this book was not written for historians." Does that mean that lousy research is just fine for the unwashed masses? Wouldn't the casual reader be served much better by reading information, whether or not it's entertaining -- and yes, it's an entertaining and easy read -- that had been verified by research? I just cannot understand the mindset of "it wasn't written for historians, so errors are just fine, as long as it gets people to read about history." Baloney.

What O'Reilly has going for him is a built-in audience who went out in droves to buy this book because he talked about it every day on The O'Reilly Factor. I watch him casually, and I figured, "Why not? One more book to add to my Lincoln collection (which is fairly large after fifty years)." As you should be able to see, my purchase of this book is verified at Amazon, and, in fact, I preordered it because the mention on the O'Reilly Factor got my interest. Unfortunately, it won't be up in the top tier of my Lincoln assassination material. It's OK for the casual reader who wants to learn something about the Lincoln assassination. It's too hurried and flies through things that need to be dealt with in a less perfunctory manner, I think. As O'Reilly notes in his show that Abraham Lincoln was the "gold standard" for the Presidency, I will say here that, for the "gold standard" of books written on the Lincoln assassination, no better work can be found than the book "Blood on the Moon," by Edward Steers -- you can see it here at Amazon at Blood on the Moon: The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln). If you only have one book on this subject, the Steers book is the book to have. If you just want to be up on the latest O'Reilly books, then get this one. It's not horrible, but it tells the reader nothing new, and oftentimes it tells the reader much LESS than he/she needs to know, and, as noted, sometimes incorrectly.

So, in summary, it was just OK, which is why I gave it an average rating. A few minor errors wouldn't have dropped it below four stars, but for a Lincoln researcher it would be considered a young person's primer. For someone seriously interested in the subject, get the Steers book and pass this one by. Just because O'Reilly has a multi-million person audience to whom he can hawk his wares, it doesn't mean it's great work. I hope people are not writing off an honest review because they think I'm picking on O'Reilly. The only POSSIBLE reason that this book took off so fast on the bestseller lists is because it was publicized on the O'Reilly Factor, not because it was so much better than any of the other books written about the Lincoln assassination. There has been much back-and-forth about this for some time. Dishonest people who didn't read the book but hate O'Reilly gave it one-star reviews without ever opening it. O'Reilly fans have an attack of the vapors at anything less than a five-star review. The purpose of this review was to inform, not to express ideology. I stand by this review. If you don't like it, that's fine, but don't attack me simply because you're sticking up for Bill O'Reilly (a futile wish, apparently). Again -- I watch The O'Reilly Factor. I am also a Lincoln scholar. Take this review at face value.
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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 6, 2013
What I began to notice after a while was the lack of accuracy regarding the firearms involved in the event. I'm sure all the gun experts have already picked apart the book, but here's what I found. The Deringer Booth used was not "made of brass". There is no brass at all on the gun. You don't tamp a bullet AND a percussion cap down the barrel when loading. The bullet was ordinary lead--not Britannia metal. The pistol was .41 caliber, not .44. Also, no mention was made of patching the ball, necessary when loading a rifled muzzle-loading arm which this was. Booth was shot by Boston Corbett using a Colt 1860 Army Model cap and ball revolver of .44 caliber--not a rifle. On another subject, Custer was surrounded and killed by several Sioux tribes, not just Oglala, in addition to Cheyenne and Arapaho warriors. I bought the book having read and heard raves about it. I would have expected much more in the way of research and historical accuracy. When you find so many glaring inaccuracies, it makes you wonder about all the rest of the book.
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on December 31, 2012
This book is ok for those who think history is boring and dull. I'll admit, I read it fairly quickly, it did feel entertaining and filled with facts. But as someone who has been reading about Lincoln since 1974, I didn't find anything new and question some of the material I did find.

In case the authors missed it, the civil war ended. It's been many years now, why do they feel the need to constantly refer to Mr Lee, General Lee, Robert E. Lee in a derogatory manner nearly every time they talk about Marse Robert? Note that I'm not a southerner, nor a northerner, my family came to this country in 1920.

I would have liked a little less war reporting and more information about how this assassination changed America. If chapters 5-8 discussed how reconstruction was changed, how decisions were altered by the assassination, it would have fit the title "...changed America forever" Oh, and what part of this book was "Shocking"?
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on February 22, 2013
Bought this for my wife and she read it and said that is was written pretty well. Since it is not considered factual by true historians it's just an interesting read. Easy to read, but why waste your time when there are factual books that are as well written available. Do not recommend.
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on January 22, 2012
I like O'Reilly and watch his program regularly, which is why I'm really disappointed at the huge number of factual errors throughout this book. In addition to the many errors other reviewers have documented, such as Grant and Lincoln meeting in the Oval Office, which wasn't built until 1909, I'll add these:

Pg 210 "Rather than give Peanut John the shiny nickel the boy had hoped for..."

Sorry, but the first nickel was minted in 1866. In 1865 the 5 cent coin was a small silver coin called the Half Dime.

Pg 197 Describing the home of Secretary Seward, O'Reilly says "Tragedy paid a visit to the building in 1859, when a congressman shot his mistress's husband on a nearby lawn. The Husband, Philip Barton Key......"

Um, not quite. The congressman was Daniel Sickles, who would later become a famous General at Gettysburg. He killed Key, who was his WIFE's lover, NOT his mistress's husband.

Big difference, and an inexcusable error in a "history book", written by a history teacher.

Pg 264 Describing Lincoln's funeral train "In what will be called the greatest funeral in the history of the United States, thirty million people will take time from their busy lives to see this very special train...."

Really? 30 million people? Let's see, there were 31 million people in the 1860 Census, which included the southern states, slaves, and also the western states like California.

So apparently, every man, woman, and child in the United States, including all the southern states and California, must have made their way to one of the cities in MD, PA, NY, OH, IN or IL, where the train stopped, and paid their respects to Lincoln.

This error is just laughable.

If the research was this sloppy, it makes me wonder what other "facts" he got wrong or didn't bother to check.

Again, I like O'Reilly but this is inexcusable, and his credibility is diminished. I'm giving the history teacher an "F".
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on February 12, 2012
I have no comment on the book, as I came here to read some of the reviews prior to purchase. Upon arrival to this page, I found it fascinating that a book could have almost as many 1-star reviews as 5-star reviews. Why, something must be amiss! Having nothing better to do on a dreary Sunday afternoon, I set out to count the number of Amazon Verified Purchases of the 1-star reviewers. Much to my surprise and dismay, there were only FOUR (yes, 4) Verified purchases out of 1,158 reviews. How could this be? Could it be that people just come here (having purchased the book from other sources, of course) to review the book to help out the Amazon faithful?

After having traversed 116 pages of one star reviews to count up those Verified purchases, I really didn't feel like doing the same for the 5-star ratings, but in the interest of science I set out to do the count. Well, after finding SIX Verified purchases on only the first page of 5-star reviews, I got occupied (whoops - I meant lazy) and decided that statistically, it just made more sense to trust those 5-star reviewers whom I knew actually purchased the book.

I would appreciate it if Amazon could add a filter to the review page so that one could see the ratings from Amazon Verified Purchases only. Perhaps then the ratings might actually be meaningful.

Thank you to all the 1-star reviewers who took the time to perform the selfless act of coming to Amazon's web site, creating a login, and posting your review. However, I can't shake this nagging feeling that perhaps you really didn't come here to review the book, but maybe had some other agenda. Eh, it's probably just me. I'm sure nobody else feels that way.

Anyway, I'll post a review of the book after I actually read it (which you'll be able to tell from the Amazon Verified Purchase).

Two years later...

This is for you, dearest Anthony...

Since Amazon did not allow me to create a separate review of the book (I can only edit this one), I had posted my impressions of the book when responding to the comments of those folks who took issue with my revealing the above facts. For Anthony's sake (and a few others), I will repeat what I said right here.

I found the book to be a very engaging read, and I enjoyed reading it. It brings life to one of our nation's most memorable presidents and the associated historical events. Grammatically, I think there were a few places where it could have been better written. The book was meant to appeal to a wide audience, from teens to the elderly, and judging from book sales it has been very successful at achieving its goal. I liked it very much, but I must say I enjoyed reading Henry Ketcham's 'The Life of Abraham Lincoln' just as much, and would encourage people to give it a try. I would rate Killing Lincoln 4.5 stars (and Mr. Ketcham's book rates 5 stars from me).

I am retaining the original content of this review for the sole purpose of revealing the nature of those who take offense to its 'inconvenient truth', and I will continue to chuckle at each new comment that ensues :)
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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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