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Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer

4.12  ·  Rating Details ·  22,090 Ratings  ·  1,937 Reviews
The murder of Abraham Lincoln set off the greatest manhunt in American history -- the pursuit and capture of John Wilkes Booth. From April 14 to April 26, 1865, the assassin led Union cavalry and detectives on a wild twelve-day chase through the streets of Washington, D.C., across the swamps of Maryland, and into the forests of Virginia, while the nation, still reeling ...more
Hardcover, 464 pages
Published February 7th 2006 by William Morrow (first published 2006)
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Community Reviews

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Jason Koivu
Jun 29, 2016 Jason Koivu rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
How the heck did Swanson manage to make this very well-known story so riveting? I mean, everyone knows that (UNNECESSARY SPOILER ALERT MOSTLY JUST FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO HAVE SPENT YOUR LIFE LIVING IN A CAVE---->) President Lincoln was assassinated at Ford's Theater by stage actor John Wilkes Booth.

Everyone with a lick of American history learnin' has heard the story. Most also know that Booth was subsequently caught, and yet Manhunt is genuinely exciting. You have to admire a writer who can en
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S.
Sep 20, 2009 S. rated it liked it
I suggest reading "Manhunt" backwards. That way, when you get to the end, Lincoln hasn't been fatally wounded, Mary Todd hasn’t tottered over into madness and that poor couple of horses haven't been shot and sunk in the swamp.

Seriously though, this account of JW Booth’s capture is worth reading. The drawback is sometimes the writing lays it on too thick. It works effectively at the beginning: the assassination itself, for example, is gripping. And since Booth was an actor, the Shakespearian allu
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Will Byrnes
After Booth did his thing at Ford’s theater, it took the combined forces of the United States, Virginia, Maryland, private pursuers and even Confederate soldiers to track down Booth and his partner in crime. Swanson gives us a beautifully detailed blow-by-blow of the actions that took place before, during and after the killing. There was material in here that was new to me, namely that the assassination of Lincoln was not the only one planned for the day, or the only one attempted, or that Booth ...more
Matt Chittum
Sep 16, 2008 Matt Chittum rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone who loves history, or just a good yarn
Recommended to Matt by: good reads
This was positively Shakespearean. Not in the poetry, but in the sheer drama of it. The plotting, the conspiracy, the murder. Swanson does a terrific job of cobbling together a stunningly complete and compelling narrative of Booth's time on the lam while armies hunted for him, all from interviews with the subjects, court transcripts, newspaper accounts, and other books written by those involved at at the time. He reveals the roots of Booth's motivation, and his ego, along with that of his ...more
Gerry
Aug 03, 2012 Gerry rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I had always known since schooldays that John Wilkes Booth had assassinated President Abraham Lincoln but I had no idea of the background and the follow-up to his action.

'Manhunt' most certainly clears that little matter up for it is a stupendous account of the 12-day chase for the killer as well as setting the scene for the deed and giving later detail about what happened to the various key locations in the story.

Once begun it is difficult to put down, for the action rolls on and on without let
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Michelle
May 16, 2012 Michelle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed the book and learned ever so much more about that point in our history than I ever did in school. I appreciate the accounts were taken from primary sources, newspapers and other research - for that reason I have more confidence in the intrepretation by Swanson. I certainly recomend it for people who learned a light version of the events, like myself, and have a curiosity as to what could drive a person to assassinate a president.
Christopher
There's something magical about a book that is so thoroughly and meticulously researched, yet reads effortlessly and with great entertainment value. It's so easy to make history feel stuffy and dry, but this book is far from it. This is the illuminated kind of nonfiction, aiming more for portraying life than delivering data into the reader's head. Perhaps not for history buffs, but more for people like me, who got solid Bs in history class because text books are so much less interesting than ...more
JD Carruthers
Nov 18, 2012 JD Carruthers rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I was impressed by James Swanson's book, Manhunt: the 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer, but unfortunately not favorably so. To begin, Swanson treats his subject in such light and casual detail that any serious student of history or anyone with an academic interest in Lincoln's assassination would be poorly served to waste time with this book. Swanson's intended audience is strictly the retail public.

Swanson begins his book with "a note to the reader" in which he makes the claim, "This story is
...more
Michael
Read this book for a fascinating glimpse into the mid-19th century, not for the writing. The author uses first-hand accounts, trial testimony etc. to re-construct some events leading up to Lincoln's assassination and then, mostly, the manhunt for John Wilkes Booth and his co-conspirators. (Did you even know there were co-conspirators?) It includes many long quotations from correspondence, diary entries, witness statements etc., all of which I greatly enjoyed reading. The author's own writing ...more
Bookmarks Magazine

James L. Swanson's Web site includes a glowing review quotation from Patricia Cornwell. The correlation is apt since critics find this nonfiction account of Booth's getaway as compelling as the best thrillers. Swanson, a legal scholar with the Cato Institute and a Lincoln historian, knows the assassination inside and out; he's been studying Lincoln since he was a child, and his previous book (with Daniel R. Weinberg), Lincoln's Assassins, was a photographic and archival study of Booth and his co

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Alicia
Jan 18, 2009 Alicia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really liked this book a lot. I had no idea what all was involved with the assasination of Abraham Lincoln. It makes me wonder what they teach us in school. I highly recommend reading it.
Natalie
Okay, so I liked this book and there was a lot of new and interesting information. It's interesting to note that there were two other assassination attempts, both of which failed, and other men involved in the assassinations. The writer wrote it in a way that was very engaging. But the last half of the book was a bit odd. It seemed like the author was sympathizing with Booth. He even compared him to Christ in two instances I can think of. That's what really got me.

After thinking about it a whil
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Judy
Aug 04, 2011 Judy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
April 1865 was one of the most momentous months in American history. Richmond fell to Union troops, Jefferson Davis was on the run, the government of the Confederacy collapsed, Lincoln was assassinated, and a 12 day manhunt was launched for his killer, John Wilkes Booth. In Manhunt, James Swanson has written an incredible book taking the reader through the days before the assassination to the capture, killing and burial of Booth, to the trial, imprisonment, and execution of co-conspirators, to ...more
Kressel Housman
I read this as a follow-up to Sarah Vowell’s Assassination Vacation, but whereas that was history mixed with humor, this was 100% history that read like a detective/adventure story. I was definitely on the edge of my seat in spots, especially at the end. Earlier in the book, however, I had a more perverse reaction: I found myself actually rooting for John Wilkes Booth to keep evading the manhunters because I didn’t want the book to end. Mostly though, I am thankful to say, I hated him as much as ...more
Terry Lucas
Feb 08, 2011 Terry Lucas rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was reading the chapter where Booth is about to shoot Lincoln and I found myself sitting tensely in the chair with the book close to my face and hurredly turning the pages to find out if he gets away with it, or does he get caught! Hellooo-oooo!!!
This book is so well written that it swoops you up into the excitement and blood-pumping emotions of the aftermath of Lincoln's assassination. Booth is not demonized, nor is he glorified. This is an interesting recount of what was going on around Was
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Richard
Jan 23, 2015 Richard rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book solidly succeeds in the genre of works that promise to be of compelling reading to the non-history-minded reader while being based on solid historical research. James L. Swanson, a historian and attorney in Washington D.C., shows his knowledge of everything Abraham Lincoln. He provides a new twist to the subject of Lincoln's assassination and aftermath in a field which is jammed to the rafters with Civil War/Lincoln books.

Swanson's twist in writing of this period of national distress
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Heidi
Mar 25, 2009 Heidi rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
My husband read this first, and his succinct review was that "a whole lot of nothing happens." Yeah, that's about right!

However, I liked this book. Swanson obviously is fascinated by this topic, and it comes through in his narrative. Although he cannot know for certain the thoughts and motivations of the major players, his research seems so thorough that he is in a good place to make reasonable conjectures. Despite the absence of action throughout most of the book, he held my interest as well as
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Sarah
4.5 stars - a fantastic look at Lincoln's assassination and the subsequent hunt for J. W. Booth. I had never read anything about the assassination before and after reading this I'm not sure if I ever need to. It was incredibly thorough but well-paced, realistic but not merely factual, and honest about the struggle of the injured Booth in escaping without making him into a hero.

Two notes:
1. This book was a little gruesome. It wasn't absolutely disgusting, but the injuries and assassination attem
...more
Ryan Evans
May 04, 2013 Ryan Evans rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book. Of course, it's nonfiction, but it reads like a high intensity, suspenseful, thrilling novel. It goes into details of the manhunt that I was not aware of before. And now that I've lived in DC for about 4 years, I found it fascinating how Swanson could transport me back 150 years. I honestly feel a more intimate connection with our nation's history after reading about this particular troubling episode.
Hal
A history book that truly reads like a novel. The old cliche that "I couldn't put it down" holds true for this vivid day-by-day and almost minute-by-minute account of the 12-day search for John Wilkes Booth.

I'll write a proper review of this great book after I spend some time gathering my thoughts.
J.M.
Mar 24, 2015 J.M. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating, in-depth look at the days between the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the death of his assassin, John Wilkes Booth. Much of what I thought I knew was incorrect. I found this riveting and difficult to put down.
Sara
It probably goes without saying by now that any time I delve into historical non-fiction the first thing that occurs to me is how little I know about my own country's history. It's never exactly sold to your average American school kid as anything other than the dry memorization of dates and the odd recitation of speeches like the Gettysburg Address. I mean my god we called it "Social Studies" when I was in school.

I wish we'd read things like Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer when I
...more
Tomas
Oct 14, 2010 Tomas rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Linda
Oct 01, 2014 Linda rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Linda by: Ford's Theatre bookstore
After finishing our tour of Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. in the summer of 2013, my sister and I characteristically lingered in the museum bookstore. The clerk there, seeing us pause over a stack of autographed copies of Swanson’s Manhunt, launched into the most emphatic endorsement of the book, telling us how excellent it was and how it read like a fast-moving fiction mystery. Intrigued, my sister and I each bought a copy.

The store clerk’s endorsement was no exaggeration: Manhunt is a ver
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Brendon
Nov 17, 2010 Brendon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Lisa (Harmonybites)
Jan 25, 2013 Lisa (Harmonybites) rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Lisa (Harmonybites) by: The Ultimate Reading List History
The author James L. Swanson isn't a historian but a journalist. He has been however, as he put it, "obsessed" with Abraham Lincoln since childhood and a collector of memorabilia regarding the assassination and someone who had read exhaustively on the subject even before he began formally researching this book on his assassination by John Wilkes Booth and the 12-day hunt for him. I didn't get farther than the assassination though, and the issue is one of style. Let me give you the passage that ...more
Fayzan Inayat
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Sue
Title: Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer
Author: James L. Swanson (Read by Richard Thomas)
Genre: Fiction
Challenges: 101 Books in 1001 Days Challenge, Book Around the States Challenge, US Presidents Reading Project, Monthly Mixer Mele, Read and Review Challenge 2010, 2010 Support Your Local Library Reading Challenge, 100 + Reading Challenge, Audio Book Challenge 2010, Pages Read 2010, American Civil War Challenge,
Rating: 4/5
No. of Pages: 367
Published: 2006


Back Cover: The murder of
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Tripp
Feb 19, 2008 Tripp rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In 84 Charing Cross Road, Helene Hanff noted that she only read non-fiction. She could get all the drama, comedy and tragedy she needed out it, with the added satisfaction that it truly happened. There are a number of authors, like Hampton Sides and Sebastian Junger, who can make a historical event far more exciting than any thriller. Working in nonfiction allows you to tell an exciting story, but to also connect it to larger issues. James Swanson's Manhunt is an excellent example of this.

The bo
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Christopher Carbone
May 24, 2009 Christopher Carbone rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who are REALLY REALLY interested in the hunt for J.W. Booth
This review is 3 stars by default. I myself thought it was a 4 star book FOR ME, but for most other people I think you have to take it, almost with a grain of salt.

Basically, Manhunt is an exhaustive look at the twelve days from Lincoln's assassination to the capture (and killing) of John Wilkes Booth. And I must stress that the book goes into extreme detail about every facet of the hunt- the who, the what, where, when, and how are copiously discussed (but the "why" is left largely absent). The
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Max's book review#2 1 5 Sep 22, 2015 07:43PM  
Details 10 71 May 28, 2014 09:21AM  
the Truman Capote influence 8 18 Oct 18, 2013 03:08AM  
Madison Mega-Mara...: Manhunt 1 5 Oct 04, 2012 07:12PM  
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James Swanson is the Edgar Award-winning author of the New York Times bestseller Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer. Swanson has degrees in history from the University of Chicago, where he was a student of John Hope Franklin, and in law from the University of California, Los Angeles.

He has held a number of government and think-tank posts in Washington, D.C., including at the United St
...more
More about James L. Swanson...

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“The best illustrated histories of the assassination are Twenty Days by Dorothy Meserve Kunhardt and Philip B. Kunhardt Jr., and Lincoln’s Assassins: Their Trial and Execution by James L. Swanson and Daniel R. Weinberg. Twenty Days contains more than three hundred black-and-white photos of the people and places connected to the assassination and Lincoln’s funeral.” 0 likes
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