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The President and the Assassin: McKinley, Terror, and Empire at the Dawn of the American Century by [Miller, Scott]
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Length: 432 pages Word Wise: Enabled Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
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Editorial Reviews Review

A Q&A with Author Scott Miller
What inspired you to write this book?
I began looking for a book idea several years ago with two requirements in mind. First, I wanted to find a good story--something with fascinating characters, a bit of tension, and a compelling narrative. Second, I was looking for a story of some significance. That led me instinctively to the turn of the century. Everything about the United States--its economy, its politics, the way people played and worked -- were all rapidly changing. It was a turning point in the nation’s history. McKinley and his assassin Leon Czolgosz, I quickly discovered, offered a fascinating story in their own right, but also spoke to broader issues.

McKinley tends to be overshadowed by his successor, Theodore Roosevelt. Is that fair? There is no question that McKinley gets less space in the history books. Roosevelt ranks as perhaps the most charismatic president in U.S. history and accomplished great things. But McKinley’s five years in office were, if anything, more action packed. He led the nation into war with Spain, he annexed the Philippines, and he sent troops to China to help put down the Boxer Rebellion. Many of his decisions would have long-lasting consequences. U.S. troops would remain in the Philippines for decades. Puerto Rico and Guam would be brought under--the Open Door-- that would guide presidents right up to Pearl Harbor. McKinley, however, was the type of man who preferred to work behind the scenes and was not one for bombastic speech making. This modesty has certainly hurt his profile, undeservedly so.

Do you see parallels between McKinley’s presidency and what the United States faces now?
Yes. Many of the issues about America’s role in the world can be traced back to his years in office. McKinley and his team were at various times torn over whether the United States, as a former colony itself, should avoid interfering in the affairs of other governments, or whether to use its power to correct what it considered to be problems in other countries. Overlaying that conflict was the pursuit of American economic interests, which demanded a strong U.S. presence abroad. Ultimately, I think, McKinley decided in many cases that there existed a happy union of interests--what was good for the United States was also probably good for others.

And what of the anarchist philosophy that Czolgosz said he subscribed to?
There are a number of similarities between the anarchist movement in the 1880s and 1890s and what’s happening in some parts of the world today. Radical anarchists of that time saw in terror--what they called the “propaganda of the deed”--an opportunity to draw attention to their cause. Some also felt they were justified in using violence because, in their view, government and society was using violence against them--aggressive police tactics and an unjust legal system. Finally, and this really struck me, was the power of imitation. It seemed like every time the police, in the United States or in Europe, captured and punished an anarchist, it only inspired others to take up the fight themselves, even to the point of hoping to die in the same manner that their heroes had.

What surprised you about your research?
What struck me the most was the richness of those who became secondary characters in the book. There is the adventure-loving Frederick Funston, the army officer who--passing himself off as a prisoner of war--led a secret raid on the camp of the leader of the Filipino resistance. There is Admiral Dewey, a desk-bound naval officer who worried over a forgettable career until he was given the opportunity to attack the Spanish fleet at Manila. There is Emma Goldman, “Red Emma,” who loved anarchism, and the men who shared her views. And there is even McKinley’s wife, a demanding and sickly woman, who would have tested most men, but found in McKinley an ever faithful and loving companion. Getting to know these people--as well as McKinley and Czolgosz--was one of the great joys of the book and I’ll miss spending time with them.

From Publishers Weekly

Miller, a correspondent for the Wall Street Journal and Reuters, faithfully captures the turbulent time at the turn of the 20th century when America faced discord from within and without, and war and an assassin altered America's history. President McKinley, then the most popular U.S. president since Lincoln, rose from humble beginnings in Ohio to become a Civil War hero and hardworking congressman, and as president determined to govern with a nonconfrontational style and maintain a peaceful foreign policy. In telling the stories of McKinley and his killer in alternating chapters, Miller uses sharp parallels between the president and his anarchist killer, Leon Czolgosz, a factory worker who lost his job in the crash of 1893 and was something of a loner who found an emotional outlet following the anarchist movement and activist Emma Goldman. Goldman's words inspired the depressed man to violence. With a smoldering labor crisis, foreign woes with Spain and Cuba, and a harsh media barrage, McKinley finally thought things were going his way until the fateful day he was shot. Miller's polished and vivid narrative of these complex, dissimilar men makes this piece of Americana appear fresh and unexpected. (June)

Product Details

  • File Size: 7096 KB
  • Print Length: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (June 14, 2011)
  • Publication Date: June 14, 2011
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004J4WN2Q
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #298,694 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Christopher Barat on August 12, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition
The most remarkable thing about Miller's eminently readable discussion of the assassination of William McKinley by anarchist Leon Czolgosz in September 1901 is how little attention is paid to the deed itself. Miller is about more here than a "tick-tock" retelling of a sad event in American history; he places the assassination squarely in context by devoting the majority of the book to a survey of McKinley's highly consequential Presidency, the growth of the anarchist movement in the U.S., and the aimless Czolgosz' gradual absorption by the anarchist subculture. The Haymarket bombings and trial, the Cuban insurrection against Spain, the Spanish-American War, the career of Emma Goldman, and the establishment of an American empire are among the topics covered here, with chapters generally alternating between the McKinley material and the anarchist/Czolgosz matter. Once you get used to the book's structure, the narrative flows reasonably well. In intertwining the McKinley and anarchist threads, Miller in no way argues that Czolgosz -- who, while a shiftless loner, appeared to be eminently sane -- killed McKinley because of opposition to imperialism. However, the juxtaposition of the two stories leads the reader to wonder whether the social inequalities and unrest of the turn of the 20th century, coupled with what the American Left at the time thought was an unseemly grab for worldwide power by government and business working in harmony, provided the necessary spark for Czolgosz' solitary explosion.

I'm pleased to see that Miller resists the temptation to resort to common stereotypes and characterize McKinley as a cipher or a simple puppet of big business.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
These were the words uttered by President McKinley's assassin immediately after he had shot the American president. Did he regret it? No. Before being executed, the assassin, Leon Czolgosz, cried out:" I killed the President for the good of the laboring people, the good people. I am not sorry for my crime but I am sorry I can't see my father".
The presidency of McKinley was the one when the modern American nation, economy and foreign policy were forged. These were the times when the USA conducted a war against the Spanish empire and acquired more territories, such as Hawaii, and Cuba was firmly under American control, while Taft was turning the Philippines into a peaceful colony during his watch as governor there. The American society was undergoing a deep and significant change from an agrarian one to an industrial one. This process meant, on the one hand, that some got very rich, and, on the other hand, millions of workers were conducting a battle of existence, performing the same mind-numbing tasks for 10 or even 16 hours a day. In fact, one observer described the situation of the masses as "one of unmitigated serfdom". New inventions and manufacturing techniques made it possible to produce more and more with fewer workers, and those who were lucky went on frequent strikes. Labor unions were still weak and the interests of the workers were mainly discussed and raised by the anarchists, whose number was spreading constantly. In other words, those desperate workers turned to violence, and the anarchists provided the fuel for it.
One of these frustrated people, who was a Polish immigrant and factory-worker, Leon Czolgosz, decided that president McKinley was focusing on making the rich richer.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is jammed packed with information. "Sweeping" is one way to put it. It is actually two books. The first is a bio-history of McKinley and his term as president. The second is an account of the rise of anarchy (with labor unrest) in the last decades of the 19th century. The only way Mr. Miller puts the two together is by noting that McKinley's assassin attended some anarchist rallies. Although pro-labor, he wasn't even that active.

My biggest problem with the book is that Mr. Miller tracks McKinley's career and the Spanish-American War while at the same time tracking America's labor problems and the rise of anarchistic views in the country. He generally alternates chapters. Sounds like a good plan. However, when he was tracking the McKinley saga, he was always four to ten years ahead of the anarchy story. Not only did this make it difficult to follow, the reader is unable to conflate the two. Worse, it means he never traced McKinley's life and career in the context of the labor and anarchy movements. Amazingly, the reader never gets McKinley's views on these except to learn that he was pro-business.

The information in both accounts is excellent and well-presented. It was presenting them in one book without combining the two that brings this book down. It would have made two very good books instead of one disjointed tome.
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Format: Hardcover
What attracted me to this book was that it seemed like one of those all-encompassing stories in the vein of Eric Larson which presents a slice of history as an all-encompassing story.
Author Scott Miller covers a lot of ground in this book in respect to not only looking at one very fatal act (the assasination of President William McKinley by anarchist Leon Cyglosz(sp?), but also digging into the backgrounds of both men. Miller's research is very thorough and he has managed to present a well-balanced account of both mens lives and insert them in respect to the emerging new century and the changes that were occurring in this country as well as the world. While this book manages to look at McKinley and his policies which was informative, it was probably the quasi-anonymous assasin that had an odd sort of appeal to this reader in the respect that he was really sort of an non-descript sort of man who got involved in the socialist movement. Since I knew less about anarchy and people like Emma Goldman and Albert Parson and events such as the Haymarket Riot, this added a lot to my general understanding of the period and put McKinley's assasination into a different perspective for me.
After reading this book, I felt as though I had picked up a substantial amount of knowledge regarding this incident and the era covered and will use it as a springboard for further investigation.
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