Abby's Reviews > Assassination Vacation

Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell
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's review
Aug 10, 2007

liked it
bookshelves: history, memoir, travel
Recommended for: factoid-loving history buffs, liberal ideologues or those who find such people entertaining
Read in February, 2006

Sarah Vowell's observation, at the base of the book, is dead-on (pardon the pun): it takes as much ego to decide to assassinate a president as it does to want to be president. Unlike most works that look at the assassinations of presidents in terms of their after-effects, Vowell looks into the assassins for their personal histories and motivations, as well as the circumstances around the assassinations. While many people know something about Lincoln's assassination ("Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?"), few know or care much about Garfield's or McKinley's.

The first 2/3 of this book are fantastic - Vowell's dry take on the circumstances surrounding the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley is very funny. This is quite an accomplishment, because presidential assassinations aren't normally something I'd consider to be funny. (Not always bad for the country, depending on who the VP is, but definitely not funny.) She also ropes her friends into going on road trips with her to all sorts of places that are relevant to the assassinations, but not much else, and aren't most people's idea of a great vacations spot, which is also entertaining. Vowell must have some really great friends! She is quite clearly and unabashedly liberal, and injects her own political commentary into the book. For the first 2/3 or 3/4 of the book, the commentary on modern politics is subsumed within her quest for information about the assassins and assassinations, and it's great. For the remainder of the book, the political commentary takes over, overwhelming the subject matter and factoid-rich, wry observations which make the book fun to read. I agree with most of her opinions on the matter, but it seems out of place here, and detracts from the book, which is why I only gave it three stars.

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