Alec's Reviews > Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination that Changed America Forever

Killing Lincoln by Bill O'Reilly
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M 50x66
's review
Apr 25, 2012

really liked it
Read in April, 2012

I am very much torn between 3 and 4 stars for this non-fiction tale that's written almost as a novel, but I think I will lean towards 4 because I so enjoyed the insight into the final days of the Civil War. That period of time is so foreign to me that any piece of writing that gives me insight into life at that remarkable crossroads in American history is almost intoxicating. Of course, I was reading this when I got upgraded to first class on a flight to Montana, so it was also quite literally intoxicating.

As I mentioned, the narrative is constructed as if it were a thriller rather than a well-researched bit of history (as it seemed to be), so the pages fly by. For most of the book, the structure is a countdown to Lincoln's assassination chronicling the last days of the Civil War and the few days post-victory that Lincoln had to enjoy prior to the assassination. It sounds a little hack, but the format served to create tension and a sense of foreboding that led to the ever-so-sought-after "I can't put this down!" effect quite nicely. In a story where everyone already knows the conclusion, this is no small task.

The characterizations of Lincoln, Grant, Booth, Lee and all the other historical figures (including a Custer cameo! Always a pleasure, George) were a lot of fun, and the contrasts between the world then and the world today are stunning. For example, at that time, normal citizens were allowed to just stroll into the Whitehouse at their leisure, without hassle and even sleep on the floor if they so desired (to try and get an early audience with the President, for example). THEY COULD SLEEP ON THE FLOOR. I know, it was 150 years ago, but still it was only 150 years ago! This is crazy to me.

Of course, this lax security is what led to Lincoln's demise, and O'Reilly points out that an open-door policy to this degree was over the top even for the time. That actually leads to my biggest complaint about the book. O'Reilly keeps alluding to this "great conspiracy" in which he implicates the Secretary of War (Stanton, I think) and a few other secret-service types (or the equivalent at the time) but he provides very little evidence to support such a claim. It just seems sensationalistic...which I suppose should be expected with a title like this.

In my eyes, it seems like the story of a man with a few screws loose (Booth) added to the hatred born of a Civil War and a President who felt it important to appear open and approachable. Put those things together and you get "Sic semper tyrannis!" and Andrew Johnson. The end.

The title is not wrong, however. By all accounts, sleeping in the White House lobby is at least twice as difficult today as it was in 1865.

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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Mark (new)

Mark I hear the book Manhunt, about tracking down the killers, is good.

Alec I think my mom might have read that one, actually. This book was actually assigned for her to read in book club, but she gave it to me because she had just read that one. Apparently one can only take so much Booth in a calendar year.

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