Absolutely fantastic. Equal parts travel guide, history book, and memoir. Hamill takes his readers along on a walk uptown from the battery to Times SqAbsolutely fantastic. Equal parts travel guide, history book, and memoir. Hamill takes his readers along on a walk uptown from the battery to Times Square, recounting historical notes on places he passes and sharing personal attachments to each place, spinning off into memories of a writer's life in New York. A New Yorker to the bone, Hamill never loses his sense of wonder at the beat and pulse of the city....more
If I had to summarize my thoughts about this book into a single sentence, I would only need to say that Stephen Kinzer’s Overthrow should be requiredIf I had to summarize my thoughts about this book into a single sentence, I would only need to say that Stephen Kinzer’s Overthrow should be required reading for anyone with even a passing interest in the relationship of the U.S. to the rest of the world. In it, Kinzer looks at over a dozen examples of U.S. intervention in foreign countries since the turn of the 20th century and presents them together to illustrate a sordid, damaging, and largely unbroken history of what is now blandly called “regime change”.
This one took me substantially longer to read than I expected, simply because the outrage I felt at reading about each cynical intervention made it impossible for me to read more than one chapter at a time. Again and again, the U.S. has contrived to overthrow democratically elected leaders (many who had already demonstrated progress in improving conditions for the citizens of their own countries) and installed autocratic, sometimes pliant, usually violent, dictatorial regimes abroad, all the while presenting to the American people the image of itself as a benevolent force for peace and democracy around the world.
Anyone who already looks at American policy with a critical eye will not necessarily be shocked by what Kinzer recounts here, but laying them out together draws out a continuity of purpose that runs through all of the interventions. The chapters are grouped into three coherent and useful sections, beginning with what Kinzer labels the an American “imperial phase”, documenting the first stumbling steps of the nation’s leadership into a forceful, expansionist policy beyond U.S. territorial limits (in Hawaii, Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Nicaragua, and Honduras). The second part of the book deals with post-WWII uses of covert action (in Iran, Guatemala, Vietnam, and Chile) to depose foreign governments deemed unfriendly the U.S., usually under the banner of anti-communism. The third and final section sees a post-Cold War return to overt military invasion (in Grenada, Panama, Afghanistan, and Iraq), though unlike the operations of the early 20th century, these can no longer acceptably be treated as justified exercises of imperial power, and are now superficially couched in nicer rationales. Individual chapters focus on a single country or a region of connected smaller conflicts, and then each section is capped by an epilogue-type summary chapter, reviewing what has happened in the countries of focus in the years since, and synthesizing a broader critique of the intervention policy.
The book makes a powerful argument about the nature of U.S. foreign intervention, though my primary complaint about it is that at times, Kinzer seems to miss his own point. For example, the chapters in Part Two demonstrate persuasively that pure individual/corporate financial interest was responsible for U.S. coups in Iran, Guatemala, and Chile, yet in his summary chapter for this section, Kinzer gives unwarranted credence to the notion that the U.S. had merely “misjudged” nationalist actions in those countries as expressions of global communism. While the individual chapters make clear the decisive role that capital interests played in putting coups into motion, Kinzer argues that, “Americans overthrew governments only when economic interest coincided with ideological ones.” (p. 215) The circumstances he presents in previous chapters, however, more convincingly support the conclusion that the ideological argument was conveniently dragooned into service whenever the capitalist crisis was urgent enough. Honestly, it’s hard to imagine it could be otherwise in a country where the titans of business have historically played such a direct role in national government. Take, for example, this passage from Part One of the book, where Kinzer diagrams the deep intermingling of the United Fruit Company and the U.S. government (p. 129-130):
Few private companies have ever been as closely interwoven with the United States government as United Fruit was during the mid-1950s. [Secretary of State John Foster] Dulles had, for decades, been one of its principal legal counselors. His brother, Allen, the CIA director, had also done legal work for the company and owned a substantial block of its stock. John Moors Cabot, the assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs, was a large shareholder. So was his brother, Thomas Dudley Cabot, the director of international security affairs in the State Department, who had been United Fruit's president. General Robert Cutler, head of the National Security Council, was its former chairman of the board. John J. McCloy, the president of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, was a former board member. Both undersecretary of state Walter Bedell Smith and Robert Hill, the American ambassador to Costa Rica, would join the board after leaving government service.
This is not merely the typical case of close personal ties between wealthy, patrician businessmen and wealthy, patrician politicians. This is state power wielded by men with a direct, overt financial interest in the outcome.
At minimum, Kinzer’s argument that capital interests would be insufficient justification for intervention without coincident ideological passion on the part of U.S. officials would be substantially more credible if he offered any counter examples of incidents where capital had not gotten its way. The bigger problem is that Kinzer’s position gives too much credit to U.S. leadership. In Kinzer’s view, the U.S. government’s use of anti-communism as justification for intervention, “was the easy way out, an extreme form of intellectual laziness.” (p. 215) The truth is more simple and less benign than that. What the ultra-rich (and ultra-politically-powerful) are most concerned about is losing their capital. When their capital interests have been under threat in foreign countries contemplating nationalization of private companies, or facing competition from new national companies, the U.S. has reliably come to their aid -- whether under cover of the fight against communism or the war on terror. The ideological rationale is incidental.
I picked up Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism at the same time as I bought Overthrow, and while I have yet to read Shock Doctrine, they seem like a natural pairing even more now then they did then. (For one thing, I imagine I’ll find more of the type of argument I’m talking about in Klein’s book than in Overthrow). But even though I disagree with Kinzer’s conclusions to some extent, my criticisms are minimal. It is an outstanding book, engagingly paced, accessibly written, and well documented. Bottom line: essential reading. ...more
I read this book when it first came out -- I actually bought it as a Christmas gift for my dad (right up his alley) and ended up reading it entire, muI read this book when it first came out -- I actually bought it as a Christmas gift for my dad (right up his alley) and ended up reading it entire, much to my surprise, before putting it under the tree!
I never would have thought I would have gotten into this book, as I was not too into non-fiction in general at the time, and certainly not navy or submarine history! But, as a Russian/East European Area Studies kinda gal, I started leafing through it, and before I knew it, I was completely hooked.
First off, this is one of those great non-fiction books that is so compellingly written it soon gets you turning pages like it's a Grisham novel. :o) Second, some of the stories and facts it reveals are practically jawdropping -- you'll find yourself thinking again and again, I can't believe that actually happened.
It's a really fascinating book - I highly recommend it....more
This volume is an illuminating, if sometimes ponderous, collection of essays investigating a series of related topics in the context of two cities witThis volume is an illuminating, if sometimes ponderous, collection of essays investigating a series of related topics in the context of two cities with similar attributes during a particular historical period (from 1870 to 1930). Published in 1994, the book originated with a particular conference held in Budapest in 1988. As such, it basically preceded all the major political and social shifts that took place in the world in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, but as the subjects generally are events that occurred century earlier, it is hard to discern any major impact on the content.
Anyone looking to this book for a survey of Budapest and New York history of a particular time frame should be forewarned: It is, first and foremost, an academic study, with all the syntactical complexity and theoretical heft that implies. It’s not what one would call a light read. Moreover, reading the chapters – the book pairs essays on similar topics by American and Hungarian authors side by side – one is quickly reminded that American academics write to communicate; Eastern European academics write to impress. Unfortunately, as an American reader, this usually made the New York articles far more engaging to me than the Budapest ones. Still, for someone with more than a passing interest in the subject, it provides some excellent insights throughout. For myself in particular, having lived as an expat in Budapest for several years, the book opened up some crucial background to things I never knew, or completely misapprehended, about life in Budapest and Hungary.
At the outset, the editors make it a point to emphasize that the studies were not designed to be truly coordinated. Rather they are simply presented as side-by-side but independent analyses of related topics. This is not just a shame, it is a seriously missed opportunity. It is a shame, because the book succeeds best when it is at its most comparative – namely in the chapters on painting in New York (Chapter 11) and Budapest (Chapter 12). (Wanda M. Corn’s article on “The Artist’s New York” is by far the most engaging and enjoyably informative in the book.)
The explicitly non-“coordinated” intent of the editors really is a missed opportunity. Clearly there is a very limited audience for this book – a reader would have to be very familiar with both Budapest/Hungary and New York/the US to be attracted to it – but that really is the editors’ own doing. A more consciously coordinated/comparative study could have been a useful contribution to urban studies in general, and would have been interesting to a much broader audience. The comparison of two cities that passed through a strikingly similar moment in their respective development at the same particular moment in history should raise a wealth of productive questions about urban development – especially when the subsequent histories of the two cities diverged as much as did the histories of New York and Budapest....more
A wonderful book for young people that gives a slice of life into the colonial era in New England. On top of humanizing a hard-to-penetrate historicalA wonderful book for young people that gives a slice of life into the colonial era in New England. On top of humanizing a hard-to-penetrate historical period for kids, it's also a great story. I read it over and over growing up - one of my favorites....more
American history is known for certain signature triumphs. Anna Deavere Smith's Twilight is a crucial exploration of what is arguably American culture'American history is known for certain signature triumphs. Anna Deavere Smith's Twilight is a crucial exploration of what is arguably American culture's signature tragedy: that whatever it is that one thinks makes the United States "great", that thing exists side by side and in constant tension with our ongoing failure to address social injustice, economic inequality, and the clash of race, power, and privilege.
For those who may not be familiar with Anna Deavere Smith's work, she has pioneered her own style of drama, creating one-woman shows based on one-on-one interviews conducted with literally hundreds of real people. Onstage, she takes on the voices of the interviewees, using their own words, pacing, verbal tics, and gestures, transitioning seamlessly from one character to another, creating a mosaic of monologues all centered on a particular theme. In Twilight, the subject is the aftermath of the riots in Los Angeles in late April-early May, 1992, following the acquittal of four white LAPD officers in the videotaped beating of African-American Rodney King.
What makes Twilight extraordinary is that it is at once an immensely valuable artifact of a particular moment in time, and a thought-provoking challenge to any complacency on the state of the US today. Smith gives us the stories of an incredible range of people touched by those events -- from Rodney King's aunt, to community leaders, affected shopowners, politicians, police officials, victims of random violence, fearful neighbors, to Reginald Denny, the white truck driver whose beating during the riots was also captured on video. What comes through most is the fear and the pain and the bewilderment of ordinary people caught up in or witnessing the riots, a repeated sense of not understanding how all these things happened -- while at the same time understanding, consciously or not, why they did. Sometimes the characters in Twilight express optimism about the future, but again and again, we see them grappling with questions of race, inequality, and privilege. Why, in the "land of opportunity" that the US claims to be, are opportunities so often closed off to some people, and so much more accessible to others? Why is race the most persistent dividing line in American society? How can it be that white residents of a city like L.A. can live their entire lives without ever having been to a black neighborhood like South Central? What is it that keeps people so far apart? And why do we continue to accept it?
Twilight doesn't presume to find answers to these difficult problems; instead, the main lesson to be learned from it is that 20 years later, the questions it raises largely remain the same. As such, Twilight should be considered required reading for just about everyone: the view from its stories is moving, powerful, and essential.
If you were to judge by the existing scholarship on the U.S. civil rights movement, you could be excused for thinking that not much of any interest haIf you were to judge by the existing scholarship on the U.S. civil rights movement, you could be excused for thinking that not much of any interest happened in Arkansas beyond the desegregation of Central High School in 1957. While that signature struggle is obviously well known, it is also true that the biggest swath of scholarship on the civil rights movement is focused on other places. That is a grand shame, because as important as the headline events in those places are, they still represent only the tip of the iceberg of the massive social change happening in the South in the 1960s. The great bulk of the iceberg – that which, so far, has remained largely under the surface – is the demanding and often perilous day-to-day work of committed activists and local people in lesser-known but equally challenging locales.
Until now, this important era in Arkansas and civil rights movement history has been woefully underexplored. But that is all about to change with the publication of Arsnick: The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Arkansas. This much-needed volume, a remarkable collection of academic articles, first-person accounts, and primary sources on the critical work undertaken by the activists of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Arkansas in the 1960s, is sure to become a milestone zero in scholarship on the civil rights movement in Arkansas, the point from which many future roads will emanate. It is hard to imagine that from this point onward any serious scholarship on movement history in Arkansas will not include early reference to this one-of-a-kind book.
Arsnick is as notable for the organization of its contents as it is for its subject matter, and the editors are to be commended for their especially well thought out approach to the material. Part I collects the (regrettably few) scholarly articles currently available on Arkansas SNCC all in one place. These provide a basic survey of notable names and events that serves as the background for the more detailed portrait of the era that emerges through the personal stories and recollections of participants in SNCC work in Arkansas, presented in Part II. For this reader, these individual narratives and interview transcripts are the high point of the book, providing a wonderfully multifaceted view of the history, as different details and perspectives on some significant actions – such as the risky attempt to desegregate a local McDonalds restaurant – and people – including a certain memorably-named FBI agent, Agent Smart – appear in multiple retellings. Lastly, following this section is an excellent compilation of primary-source materials in Part III, which illustrates events as they happened through contemporary field reports, personal correspondence, and local news articles.
In telling the story of SNCC in Arkansas, Arsnick’s focus is not limited to the student organizers, white and black, northern and southern, who came from outside Arkansas to advocate for change. It also tells the story of local leaders and ordinary people moved to action, people who, unlike many of the SNCC workers, would have to spend their lives among the whites they were confronting, and who had the audacity to step out of line and challenge the system at great risk to themselves and their families. While this focus reflects SNCC’s emphatically grassroots vision, it also speaks to the care taken by the book’s editors, who have not fallen into the easy (and, sadly, far too common) trap of framing the history of the civil rights movement as essentially one of a few influential leaders.
In short, Arsnick represents a meaningful step forward in Arkansas and movement history, and should inspire much new investigation and writing in the future. The primary sources used here indicate just how much more is there to be discovered in the available archives. And the personal narratives of movement participants capture vitally important perspectives. At the very least, the book ought serve as a timely reminder to historians that the recollections of these veterans themselves are a significant resource simply waiting to be explored.
One final note: Readers of Arsnick have access to a special additional resource. The book’s 2011 publication was celebrated with a symposium at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, timed to coincide with the city’s commemoration of the first Freedom Riders bus to arrive in Little Rock on July 10, 1961. To our great good fortune, parts of this symposium were filmed by C-SPAN and are available for viewing on the C-SPAN website here (Panel 1) and here (Panel 2). These feature panel presentations by many of the book's contributors and participants of the movement in Arkansas. To see and hear them tell their own stories is a unique opportunity that should not be missed.
I've actually only half read -- or "read" -- this book, as I started with the audio version and just couldn't bring myself to finish it. Based on whatI've actually only half read -- or "read" -- this book, as I started with the audio version and just couldn't bring myself to finish it. Based on what I learned so far, and what I heard in an NPR interview with the author, I'm sure I will eventually really like the book. However, I just can't take the reader anymore. His reading is so artificial, so obviously performative, so irritatingly intrusive, that I find myself having trouble concentrating on the content because I'm so busy being annoyed at the reader.
I'll have to return to this another time when I can read it in actual book version. ...more
Victor Serge's Conquered City is an extraordinary novel in every sense. It captures the period of one year in the Russian revolution, when the revolutVictor Serge's Conquered City is an extraordinary novel in every sense. It captures the period of one year in the Russian revolution, when the revolutionaries are in control of St. Petersburg (or, rather, Petrograd) and have begun a period of purges, reprisals, and terror. It is impressionistic, episodic, and truly a communist story, in its root meaning of communal. It is not an individual person's story, but rather a story, told through glimpses of dozens of different lives, of both a people and an idea in a particular moment in history. In Serge's novel, the revolution itself is the main character, a strange, amorphous but unitary creature -- at once rough beast, fighting out of instinct and elemental need, and political-philosophical being, pressing onward through exceptional, sometimes nightmarish, times, driven by a deliberate consciousness of a higher purpose, an intellectually cohesive and morally justified imperative.
Born in Brussels in 1890, a child of Russian exiles, Victor Serge participated in anarchist movements in both France (where he was jailed for several years) and Spain. In 1919, he traveled to Russia to join the revolution. His fortunes in Russia rose and fell with his degree of agreement with the Soviet political establishment. He was expelled from the Party in 1928 and later imprisoned, and eventually permitted to leave the Soviet Union. Conquered City, written in 1931 in quick succession after two other revolutionary-themed novels, is a reflection of what he witnessed during the civil war in St. Petersburg.
The New York Review of Books Classics edition of Conquered City includes a foreword by translator Richard Greeman which illuminates the novel a great deal, providing important context. For example, this excerpt from the foreword quotes Serge to describe both his primary thematic interest in writing the book, and his conscious aim to create a narrative greater than any one character:
"His goal in writing Conquered City, he wrote to [French author Marcel] Martinet in 1930, was to 'reconstitute with the greatest accuracy and precision the atmosphere of one period of the Russian Revolution. . . . In [Conquered City], I would like to dramatize the conflict of that power grappling with history and itself -- and victorious.' Serge went on to outline for Martinet his plan for this new novel which he believes will be 'radically different' in its form compared to
'any I have read. . . . It will have a sort of plot, central if you will, but like a narrow thread running through a complicated design. . . . It is not a novel of handful of people but that of a city, which is itself a moment and a fragment of the revolution. I keep rather close to history -- without writing history -- and chronicle, but above all concerned with showing the men who make events and who are carried away by events. From this standpoint, the characters have but a subaltern importance, they appear and disappear as they do in the city without occupying the center of the stage for more than a few instants.'"
Serge's work has been largely unknown until recently, but the NYRB Classics series has brought him a new world of readers. Greeman's foreword notes that as a Russian writer who published most of his work in Paris, Serge embodied a dual cultural perspective. Greeman adds, "Ironically, Serge's literary cosmopolitanism and Marxist internationalism has prevented him from being domesticated into the university, where departments are divided into national literatures like Russian and French, both of which apparently ignore his work." I can attest to this personally. I have a Masters degree in Russian literature, with a particular interest in early 20th work, and yet I had never heard of Victor Serge before a friend introduced me to this novel.
Serge's work stands out among other fictional accounts of the revolution. He was committed to the revolution and remained dedicated to its ideals, but was not blind to its contradictions and excesses. The revolution's young idealists often wound up either corrupted by the regime or disenchanted by it, resulting in a literature that either falsely idealizes the revolution, or rejects and condemns it completely. But this piece occupies an unusual middle ground, providing a refreshingly multi-layered picture that encompasses both the hope and the tragedy of the revolution, seen through the eyes of a true believer. Serge's point is that within its own success, the revolution carried its own demise. In remaking society, it remade itself, purging the contaminating elements within itself and in the process becoming many of the very things it fought against.
Beyond the politics, the novel impresses stylistically and narratively. It is filled with deeply evocative images and passages too numerous to count, which convey a full atmosphere of advance, defeat, struggle, hope, resignation and acceptance in the smallest detail. For example: looking out over a still, clear winter morning panorama of the city, at a time when shortages, hunger, and industrial collapse pervade the city, a character observes, “All this beauty was perhaps the sign of our death. Not a single chimney was smoking. The city was thus dying.” (p. 57)
Elsewhere, an official of the new regime reflects on having been stopped and questioned by a sentry guarding a woodpile, and voices his discomfort with his own relative privilege, and its contradictory necessity:
“He had taken me for another wood thief at first. I could have been one. People steal the wood that belongs to everyone, in order to live. Fire is life, like bread. But I belong to the ruling party and I am ‘responsible,’ to use the accepted term, that is to say, when all is said and done, in command. My ration of warmth and bread is a little more secure, a little larger. And this is unjust. I know it. And I take it. It is necessary to live in order to conquer; and not for me, for the Revolution.” (p. 35)
Also, true to Serge’s intent, while the barest outline of a plot can be discerned among the details, it is not nearly the most important focus of the story. The reader is carried along from chapter to chapter, peeking into rooms and lives that sometimes also bounce tangentially off one another, deflecting the narrative into another room, another scene, another story. Many characters lives’ intersect, usually unbeknownst to the characters themselves. Sometimes fates of parties with quite opposing motives and loyalties mirror each other in their crises, if not their intent. Often, the story throws the reader from the end of one chapter into the middle of a unrelated conversation or action in progress at the beginning of the next, leaving the reader to orient herself to the new surroundings and events. And in the end, the entire novel seems to fold back on itself, completing its year-long journey on a night that is almost a perfect stylistic echo of the opening night, which at the same time, it clearly does not parallel in action.
The effect of all this is powerful, an aesthetically complex story that conveys the paradoxical reality of the social and political revolution, communicating the principled idealism that drove it, as well as the individual hardship that it caused. ...more
I'm adding this review years after reading the book, but it left such an impression. It is a powerful, honest memoir of an early foot soldier in the CI'm adding this review years after reading the book, but it left such an impression. It is a powerful, honest memoir of an early foot soldier in the Cultural Revolution that strikingly captures the exhilaration and the disillusionment of the author with the revolution she participated in. ...more
This book earns a good chunk of its rating just by simply existing. Accessible, concise histories such as these, aimed at a general readership, are neThis book earns a good chunk of its rating just by simply existing. Accessible, concise histories such as these, aimed at a general readership, are nearly impossible to come by. And it mostly achieves its modest goals. The first half of the book is especially good -- the authors take care to deconstruct the Costa Rican myth of a history of benign conquest and colonialism leading directly to an egalitarian paradise in the 20th century. The reality is somewhat harsher, as the authors explain, and substantially more complex.
The book is seriously unbalanced, though, as it deals with a few centuries of history, form pre-Columbian times to about 1930 in about half of its 200-or-so pages, then spends the entire second half of the book focused on the period from about 1930 to around 2005. In the ensuing chapters, the narrative devolves into a mind-numbing alphabet soup of acronyms, statistics, and dollar figures -- it’s a level of specificity that doesn’t really suit this type of survey history. The reader quickly becomes mired in details and loses her orientation to the broader sweep of history. The authors would have done better to dispense with a purely chronological orientation and instead organize the book -- or at least the half dealing with the 20th century -- thematically. It would have been much easier to understand the flow of movements and tendencies in that way, and the book would have been a far more interesting read.
One especially nice feature of the book worth noting is that literally every page is illustrated with an image and/or sidebar quote. The images include maps, charts, drawings/paintings, and photographs, that provide meaningful context and visual resonance for the text presented. And the sidebar quotes run the gamut from colonial era primary sources, to ordinary-person observations of modern era events, adding perspective and amplifying the breadth of the narrative coverage. ...more
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 bookstAfter 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 very thorough, well written, exceptionally well paced account of Booth (& Co.’s) escape from the city and attempt to evade capture after Lincoln’s assassination. Also, it is always surprising to read a history that you thought you knew -- or at least learned in school -- and realize that your education (or what you remember of it) is missing huge, critical, chunks of information. For example, I had no recollection that Lincoln’s assassination was part of a much larger plot to assassinate several important leaders, which itself was also an updated version of an earlier plot to kidnap and ransom those same leaders. As it turned out, Lincoln’s actual assassination was as much a crime of opportunity as it was the product of this longer plot. Also, I have no memory of ever learning about the attempted assassination of Secretary of State William H. Seward that same night. Swanson gives full time to the Seward attempt, documenting in riveting detail a night of jaw-dropping violence that came shockingly close to success.
Swanson cogently sets the context of the assassination plot -- recent military victories on the part of the North, the impact of the war on the President and his popularity -- and does an especially excellent job of sketching the character of Booth himself. Relying on Booth’s own writings, contemporary interviews with people who knew him, trial records of the assassin and his co-conspirators, as well as on letters and a memoir by Booth’s sister, Swanson builds a portrait of a man who was deeply convinced of the rightness of his actions, shocked by the lack of support for him in the aftermath, and frequently undone by his own often-inflated sense of self. One memorable incident recalls Booth, wounded and weakened after more than a week on the run, with Union soldiers swiftly closing in, stopping to take the time to write a snide letter to an erstwhile sympathizer who -- exceedingly rudely, in Booth’s view -- failed to offer him appropriate food and shelter. Booth even made a point of including several dollars with the note, an indignant expression of his refusal to accept as charity such feeble and grudging assistance as that which the man had provided.
Manhunt is indeed a fast-moving, thoroughly absorbing read, hard to put down and easy to finish. My sister read it in little more than a weekend right after our visit to D.C. I didn’t get around to reading until a year later, finishing it up, as it happens, 2 days before my annual trip to Washington, D.C. As my partner and I were planning to drive South from D.C. after our stay there, I insisted that we follow the same route out of the city that John Wilkes Booth and David Herold had taken. We started off at the Surratt Tavern in present-day Clinton, MD, where we took the excellent tour of the house offered by the museum staff, who were dressed in period costumes and answered every one of our many questions in detail. After that it was on to Samuel Mudd’s farm (open for tours only one day a week, so we missed that) and onward to sites of other farms where Booth and Herold sought help and support. There are historical markers at all of these sites, including at the edge of the pine thicket within which Booth and Herold hid for a week from soldiers and police hunting them down, and at the approximate site where they crossed the Potomac. Apart from the Surratt Tavern site in Clinton, all of these places are still in fairly rural locales, so it’s possible to stand in relative silence on the edge of the pine thicket, for instance, close your eyes, take a deep breath of the damp piney air, and imagine what it looked and smelled and felt like to be hunkered down in these woods in 1865. The Potomac crossing site is conveniently located near a couple eateries offering fresh Maryland crab, which also makes for a nice pause. The site of the search’s climax, the Garrett farm in Virginia, has long been an empty patch of land, so there’s little more than an intellectual reward in getting to the final marker, but the other main associated site, Port Royal, VA, is worth a longer stay as well. Now just a sleepy hamlet of cottages and town buildings, all with historical plaques, laid out on a tiny, tidy grid, it’s hard to imagine it was once a key port on the Rappahannock River.
[Postscript: Should anyone be interested in following this route, I found the following sources (and a GPS unit that can handle longitude/latitude coordinates) extremely helpful: -- Booth escape route marked on map. Descriptions are limited, but coordinates are exact, and some clickable location names link you to state historical marker pages: http://www.communitywalk.com/john_wil... -- Narrative overview of the stops on the route by a travel blogger. Excellent written summary of stops, but less detailed location help: http://myamericanodyssey.com/manhunt-... ] ...more