Alicia's Reviews > Assassination Vacation

Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell
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's review
Feb 25, 2008

really liked it
Read in February, 2008

Sarah Vowell is one of my favorite authors, so I don't know why I put off reading this book for so long. I think it's because The Partly Cloudy Patriot was sort of disappointing after Take the Cannoli. But I thought this book was great. Vowell writes about visiting various locations associated with the assassination of Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley. Of course, the most heartfelt material is the stuff about Lincoln.

One of the things that grabbed me was the "grandfather paradox" part where she writes about visiting the home of Dr. Samuel Mudd, the doctor who treated Booth's leg injury after he shot Lincoln. Mudd's family has spent more than a century trying to clear his name, claiming he wasn't in on the conspiracy. His home, now a museum, is run by a handful of his descendants, and Vowell writes about having a moment of empathy for the gift shop cashier -- Mudd's great-great-granddaughter -- because she also knows what it's like to feel aggrieved by a great-great-grandfather's life. Apparently, her own great-great-grandfather fought with some horrible gang of Confederate assholes during the Civil War. Vowell ultimately determines that she doesn't buy the Mudd-not-in-on-the-conspiracy bit, but her take on his life, especially after visiting the place where he was imprisoned -- Fort Jefferson on an island in the Dry Tortugas -- is moving. And fair and balanced. Just like Fox News. OK, not at all like Fox News.

I also appreciated how in writing about the McKinley administration and the Spanish-American War, Vowell touches on a puzzling topic: how on earth could the party of Lincoln have become the party of Strom Thurmond and other such bigots? She also draws some unnerving parallels between the effect of the Spanish-American War on Cuba and the likely outcome of Bush's war on Iraq.

Anyway, before reading this, I thought Sarah Vowell's whole patriotism-as-religion thing was maybe getting a little tired, but she really is so passionate about it that you can't help but get caught up in it. I really appreciate the way she makes certain moments in history come to life.
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