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Assassination Vacation

3.98  ·  Rating Details ·  33,122 Ratings  ·  3,291 Reviews
New York Times bestselling author of The Word Shipmates and contributor to NPR’s “This American Life” Sarah Vowell embarks on a road trip to sites of political violence, from Washington DC to Alaska, to better understand our nation’s ever-evolving political system and history.
ebook, 272 pages
Published April 4th 2005 by Simon & Schuster (first published 2005)
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Apr 03, 2016 Kim rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone... this means YOU
Recommended to Kim by: I stole it from one of you goodreader's lists

Okay, I’m totally going to ruin this book for you---major spoiler alert coming up, folks. pssst… All the Presidents mentioned in the book, DIE. I know, right? You’re saying ‘Aww, cheese and rice! Kim! What’s the point in reading this book then?'

Well, lemme tell you….

This book has been quite an educational journey for me. In both that, I’ve learned all this great stuff about the assassinations of Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley, but also in that I’ve learned that people think I’m a freak.

I’ve been
A reminiscence: Years ago, I persuaded/forced my then-girlfriend to take a trip with me to the Little Big Horn battlefield near Hardin, Montana. It was at the Little Big Horn that Lt. Col. George Custer came to grief, forever making his name a synonym for "bad decision." It was quite a trek to make in a single weekend: Omaha to Montana. So we got to the battlefield after 20 straight hours of driving; slept outside the Ranger station waiting for it to open; then took in the battlefield, unwashed ...more
May 28, 2008 Shannon rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Ugh! Sarah Vowell, you annoy the hell out of me, on This American Life and in this book. I always think, "that would be totally funny if that happened to me" but her writing is never sufficient enough to translate it to the page. She's just not a good storyteller--she wants to be David Sedaris but she can't seem to pull it off.

I also can't stand when people go on about how so-called nerdy they are when you know they secretly relish being weird and quirky.

I have a friend that confuses her with
Mar 11, 2009 Eric_W rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a book my wife and I listened to as we drive to doctor appointments, visited children, etc., so it took us a while to get through it completely. That is not to denigrate the book, which is wonderfully entertaining and educational. Ben (GR) and I have exchanged emails recently about whether listening to an audiobook can be considered "reading." This is a case where I think the book is actually better listened to since it's read by the author who has such a gravely and droll way of reading ...more
Oct 05, 2007 Kim rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: History buffs with an edge
Sarah Vowell has written a hilarious take on heritage tourism, visiting many of the sites related to our poor assassinated presidents. She manages to sneak in a lot of history alongside her wry, sly, sarcastic witticisms, as well as her biting commentary on our current administration, which was great fun to read. But she is also clearly very full of herself, and that gets in the way of the story. Several times in the book, she would stop the "action" to write something along the lines of, "I'm j ...more
Debbie Zapata
Dec 18, 2016 Debbie Zapata rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: saturday
Abraham Lincoln. James Garfield. William McKinley. What do these three men have in common? They were all Presidents of The United States of America. And they were all assassinated.

Not everyone would think to create a road-trip out of the deaths of these men, but Sarah Vowell did. She visits museums commemorating these sad events, she searches out graves, historical plaques, and former homes.

I was not at all certain I would enjoy reading this book, to tell the truth. For one thing, my mother wan
There’s something about the way Sarah Vowell writes about history that brings it to life for me. Probably because there’s something about the way that Sarah Vowell writes about people, and history is made of people. It often doesn’t feel that way. (Ironically, there’s a section in here where she tells a story about a time where she ended up yelling at some guy in a supermarket about how the only time it would be interesting to live through history would be if you were there when they discovered ...more
Apr 30, 2008 Bryan rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I picked this book up as a recommendation from Strand in Manhattan. Not knowing what to expect, I was all at once pleasantly surprised and supremely disappointed. To me, the biggest thing that jumps out about this author's style is that she is the Chuck Klosterman of political history. The plot follows the author through road trips and vacations to various spots of historical significance and her stories are advanced through a combination of her interactions with the everyday people there and he ...more
William Dean Howells once described seeing the [casts of Lincoln's] hands at a party in a New York home. One partygoer in particular seemed drawn to them. He picked them up, held the hands in his own, and asked the host to whom they belonged. And when he heard that they were the hands of Abraham Lincoln, the man, Edwin Booth [brother of John Wilkes], silently placed them back upon the shelf.
(Assassination Vacation, p. 116)
Abraham Lincoln's son Robert Todd was present at three separate President
Dec 05, 2007 Grace rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: U.S. history buffs!
Shelves: 2007
Sarah Vowell, will you marry me?

I liked The Partly Cloud Patriot, but I loved Assassination Vacation. Vowell's pilgrimage to sites associated with the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley struck so many cords with me it is hard to know where to begin. First, I learned a ton. I knew a lot of what she mentioned about the Lincoln assassination (though by no means all of it), but really, does anybody know much about Garfield or McKinley? I knew McKinley's assassin was somehow
I feel like Vowell and I would do great on a road trip together. We might never make it to our actual destination because we would be constantly pulling over to read the history signs that no one else I know will let me pull over to read, and I feel that we would be easily side tracked by historical detour, but man, we would learn a lot. Then again, her voice on the audiobook REALLY set me on edge, and if she sounds like that in person I might have to bail. Still, voice aside, I like the crazy, ...more
Lisa Vegan
I love the author’s irreverence, wit, and humorous outlook. I find her hilarious when she’s speaking, such as when I’ve seen her on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show. This book is funny, but her writing is not nearly as hilarious as she is when speaking. I think this book would be great as an audio book if read by the author. Even her voice and inflections are funny, and while I laugh out loud when listening to her, including when she talked about this book, reading this book elicited some smiles fro ...more
Mar 29, 2011 Lena rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
The only high school class I've ever fallen asleep in was American History. I've long suspected that this had a lot more to do with the quality of the teacher than the subject itself. My suspicions were confirmed by reading this book - if Sarah Vowell had been my teacher, I would have been WIDE awake.

Ms. Vowell is, to be sure, something of an unusual person. I don't know a lot of folks who have much of an interest the subject of presidential assassination, let alone in the assassinations of such
Laura Gurrin
Nov 01, 2010 Laura Gurrin rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010
Another one I didn't finish, and I'll try and save you the trouble of starting. The book was relatively entertaining when it was talking about the assassinations of the title (Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley),
especially Lincoln - Vowell devotes the largest slice of the book to him and John Wilkes Booth. However, over time I got tired of the author taking every opportunity to take juvenile shots at the Bush administration, the Iraq war, and Republicans in general. It might have been interesting
Sep 19, 2015 Ctgt rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bio-history
A quirky look at three assassinations; Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley(why no Kennedy?) as the author travels around to various locations related to each event. Vowell uses humor(dry to sardonic)with splashes of historical anecdotes in what I would consider more essay than history. Half the book is spent on Lincoln, Booth and his conspirators with stops at multiple locations including the Mudd home(which is apparently still difficult to find) and Fort Jefferson in Florida where the conspirators w ...more
Mar 12, 2008 Andrew rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In every creative writing program, an insanely big deal is made of Voice—discovering a Voice, having a Voice, having a unique Voice, maintaining your unique Voice, I can’t follow the story but oh that Voice, yes it’s misogyny but what a Voice!

The concept of voice is another in the long list of writing program sillynesses (others: science fiction isn’t legitimate writing, it’s not O.K. to admit influence from well-known writers, and the word poignant means something). But there is no doubt that h
Mar 26, 2010 Erin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Just a quick survey to pick your brains out there. This is in no way real or based on actual events.

Let's say that a good neighbor, friend and fellow book junkie lends you a paperback book. Let's say it is called... oh I don't know... Assassination Vacation. Suppose the book got very mild water damage on it, just enough to look like you read it on the sea shore of Bermuda. This was in fact no fault of your own, probably water splashed on it when you were washing black grease off of baby ducks wh
Vowell's blend of humor, travelogue, and history works for me. I regularly chuckle and "oooh, interesting" when I read her work.

Assassination Vacation was engaging and fun. In her signature style, Vowell delves into the assassination plots (and the assassins) for three US presidents: Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley - all in the latter-half of the 19th-century. Lincoln's assassination (expectedly) gets the largest page count, but it includes some interesting historical notes - and some very mode
K.D. Absolutely
Dec 16, 2010 K.D. Absolutely rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: humour
Published in 2005, Assassination Vacation is part-travelogue, part-history book and part-essay by Sarah Vowell, an American author, essayist, journalist and social commentator. I copied those descriptions from Wiki because they are very relevant and apparent in this book's overall feel. In the beginning of the story, Vowell says that she is afraid that someday when she is old and gray and her niece opens her photo album, she will see that all those pictures were taken from memorials, historical ...more
Jesse Keenan
Last summer Sarah Vowell and David Sedaris did a reading in my town (I did not attend as I'd seen him twice before and the tickets were three times as expensive) but a friend of mine alerted us to where they were dining after the reading. My friend Kaitlin had thrown a party for her boyfriend Josh that afternoon to celebrate the completion of his second masters degree -- so we had been drinking steadily since about 4pm. We made it to the restaurant around midnight with the hope that we would loo ...more
Kressel Housman
The oxymoronic title of this book sums it up: it’s a travelogue of Sarah Vowell’s tours to all the important sites surrounding the assassinations of three out of four of America’s assassinated presidents, ie Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, and William McKinley. Lincoln gets the longest chapter because he’s the most famous and revered. Sarah gives him a beautiful tribute, particularly with her quote from Frederick Douglass’ eulogy. Reading about the other two presidents was a completely differen ...more
Dec 28, 2008 Dollie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a fine book! Sarah Vowell is a cross between Doris Kearns Goodwin, Jon Stewart and Wednesday Addams. Her knowledge AND love of her topic are clear. I started wondering if she would just make each stop on her bizarre journey a punch line but found something quite different: a fine discussion of events surrounding the people and places involved in the assassination of three presidents: Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley. And did I learn stuff... Such rich information framed by her odd obsessi ...more
Aug 28, 2009 Chris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I first saw Sarah Vowell on The Daily Show and I was intrigued by her. This slight, dry, kind of sleepy-looking woman was not who you might expect when you run the words "presidential historian" through your mind (in my mind, "presidential historian" is usually an older man of leisure who's managed to be lucky enough to turn a passion into a job), but there she was. The fact that she was also really funny impressed me even further. And so, since I have a long-running fascination with presidentia ...more
Ryan Lawson
Oct 08, 2008 Ryan Lawson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book thoroughly. Since Sarah Vowell is a regular radio personality on NPR, I had the good fortune of having her cute voice replace mine in my head as I read through this genuinely interesting and witty discourse of American history.

I am always captivated by history books that give away little unknown details of the past, and Sarah Vowell really excells in this arena. For example, did you know that the 1922 revealing of the Lincoln Monument in Washington D.C. was segregated? Also,
history never repeats:
"In 2003 and 2004, as I was traveling around in the footsteps of McKinley, thinking about his interventionist wars in Cuba and the Philippines, the United States started up an interventionist war in Iraq. It was to be a 'preemptive war' whose purpose was to disarm Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, weapons which, as I write this, have yet to be found, and which, like the nonexistent evidence of wrongdoing on the Maine, most likely never will be. At the outset of the war, Pr
Nicholas Karpuk
Mar 17, 2009 Nicholas Karpuk rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: History Lovers, Vowell Lovers, You
It is difficult to defend against a single lunatic.

After Lincoln got shot, almost every presidential assassination attempt, successful or failed, was carried out by a loner with dubious motives.

The reasoning, at least to me, is that it's easier to form information leaks among a group, and a group draws more attention to itseld, it generates communication, and communication is always susceptible to interception.

I studied this idea on Wikipedia recently, mulling it over out of a weird fear durin
Jan 22, 2012 christa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One time someone told me in a really convincing and authoritative voice that as an English major, it is really bad form that I claimed no interest in history. “All literature is history,” or maybe “All history is literature,” this person said and I shrugged and imagined maps and capitols and dates that wars ended and began and bad guys, borders and good guys, red buttons and paperwork and blah blah blah. This has all sort of recently changed for me. I’m getting better at understanding the defini ...more
Susanna Sturgis
I loved this book. Having borrowed it from the library, I'm almost certainly going to buy an ebook edition so I can dip into it from time to time. Having said that, though, I've got to add that it's quirky enough that if the author's tone grates on you, you might have a hard time with it. I love the author's tone. I love going from laugh-out-loud funny to whoa-gotta-think-about-this in the space of one paragraph.

Sarah Vowell embarked on a determined -- one might say "obsessive" -- quest to explo
Mar 02, 2011 Dan rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
So, this review comes after my 3rd attempt to get through this book. I LOVE This American Life, and I am a fan of most of the contributors to that show when I have split off to get their solo works. Furthermore, I keep getting drawn back into giving this book another shot because I run across references to Sarah Vowell in so many of the other books that I read. I just know that I must be missing something terribly delightful about her insight or approach?

But I believe I have given this book a fa
Jan 31, 2010 Matt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Funny + learning = awesome.

Let's put it this way. I read most of this book during weekday work breaks, so it had to be light and airy enough to make it feel like my brain was resting. On the other hand, Vowell spends a lot of time writing about the likes of politics in the days of Presidents Garfield and Arthur, which is only riveting to the geekiest of the geeks. ("Just for fun, I decided to take a self-guided tour of Garfield's Washington D.C. ...") So I think I pay it high compliment in sayin
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Sarah Jane Vowell is an American author, journalist, humorist, and commentator. Often referred to as a "social observer," Vowell has authored several books and is a regular contributor to the radio program This American Life on Public Radio International. She was also the voice of Violet in the animated film The Incredibles and a short documentary, VOWELLET - An Essay by SARAH VOWELL in the "Behin ...more
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“Like Lincoln, I would like to believe the ballot is stronger than the bullet. Then again, he said that before he got shot.” 76 likes
“Except for the people who were there that one day they discovered the polio vaccine, being part of history is rarely a good idea. History is one war after another with a bunch of murders and natural disasters in between.” 42 likes
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