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Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer

4.14  ·  Rating details ·  29,564 ratings  ·  2,352 reviews

The murder of Abraham Lincoln set off the greatest manhunt in American history. From April 14 to April 26, 1865, the assassin, John Wilkes Booth, led Union cavalry and detectives on a wild twelve-day chase through the streets of Washington, D.C., across the swamps of Maryland, and into the forests of Virginia, while the nation, still reeling from the just-ended Civil War,

Kindle Edition, 469 pages
Published October 13th 2009 (first published February 6th 2006)
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Will Byrnes
After Booth did his thing at Ford’s theater, it took the combined forces of the United States, Virginia, Maryland, private pursuers and even Confederate soldiers to track down Booth and his partner in crime. Swanson gives us a beautifully detailed blow-by-blow of the actions that took place before, during and after the killing. There was material in here that was new to me, namely that the assassination of Lincoln was not the only one planned for the day, or the only one attempted, or that Booth ...more
Jason Koivu
May 29, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
How the heck did Swanson manage to make this very well-known story so riveting? I mean, everyone knows that (UNNECESSARY SPOILER ALERT MOSTLY JUST FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO HAVE SPENT YOUR LIFE LIVING IN A CAVE---->) President Lincoln was assassinated at Ford's Theater by stage actor John Wilkes Booth.

Everyone with a lick of American history learnin' has heard the story. Most also know that Booth was subsequently caught, and yet Manhunt is genuinely exciting. You have to admire a writer who can enliv

Countless books have been written about Abraham Lincoln but far fewer about his assassin John Wilkes Booth. As someone who's uncomfortable with books devoted to criminals, I think this is just as well; however, to provide a complete history of Lincoln, Booth can't be ignored entirely. Manhunt is a thorough, carefully researched account of this man, a staunch supporter of the Confederacy who'd been plotting against Lincoln for a long time before finally shooting him on April 14,
I suggest reading "Manhunt" backwards. That way, when you get to the end, Lincoln hasn't been fatally wounded, Mary Todd hasn’t tottered over into madness and that poor couple of horses haven't been shot and sunk in the swamp.

Seriously though, this account of JW Booth’s capture is worth reading. The drawback is sometimes the writing lays it on too thick. It works effectively at the beginning: the assassination itself, for example, is gripping. And since Booth was an actor, the Shakespearian allu
Mariah Roze
Sep 09, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I love this author and I'm trying to read every book by him, so of course I needed to read this one and I am so glad I did. James is a fantastic writer that writes for all abilities and understandings.

A fascinating tale of murder, intrigue, and betrayal. A gripping hour-by-hour account told through the eyes of the hunted and the hunters, this is history as you've never read it before.

The murder of Abraham Lincoln set off the greatest manhunt in American history -- the pursuit and capture of Joh
Marialyce (absltmom, yaya)
This is a well done exhaustively researched book on the search, capture, and of course the ultimate death of some who conspired together to assassinate President Lincoln.

John Wilkes Booth, the infamous assassin was able to elude the searchers for twelve days, broken leg and all with the assistance of some sympathizers, (Dr Mudd, Mary Surratt, Michael O’Laughlen, Edman Spangler and Samuel Arnold) as well as an accomplice, David Herold. Booth evaded over a thousand Union troops and detectives to
Matt Chittum
Aug 29, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone who loves history, or just a good yarn
Recommended to Matt by: good reads
This was positively Shakespearean. Not in the poetry, but in the sheer drama of it. The plotting, the conspiracy, the murder. Swanson does a terrific job of cobbling together a stunningly complete and compelling narrative of Booth's time on the lam while armies hunted for him, all from interviews with the subjects, court transcripts, newspaper accounts, and other books written by those involved at at the time. He reveals the roots of Booth's motivation, and his ego, along with that of his co-con ...more
Mar 08, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book reads like a well-paced murder mystery novel. It was fun to read and I gobbled it up quickly.

The book does not really give much background historical information, as it says laser focused on the story of the assassination (including the attempts on the lives of the Secretary of State and Vice President) and the 12-day chase of the perpetrators. This was probably the right decision, as it kept the book fast paced with dramatic intensity throughout. But there were a lot of things mention
In an account that reads like fiction, James Swanson reveals the detailed planning carried out by John Wilkes Booth before Lincoln's assassination, the events which occurred at Ford's Theatre, and the escape made by Booth and his accomplices after the attack. For tweleve days authorities searched for Booth before finally capturing him. If you thought you knew all about Lincoln's assassination, think again! This book is hard to put down as the reader learns about what really happened in the days ...more
Aug 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I had always known since schooldays that John Wilkes Booth had assassinated President Abraham Lincoln but I had no idea of the background and the follow-up to his action.

'Manhunt' most certainly clears that little matter up for it is a stupendous account of the 12-day chase for the killer as well as setting the scene for the deed and giving later detail about what happened to the various key locations in the story.

Once begun it is difficult to put down, for the action rolls on and on without let
Feb 20, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
“Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer” is a book that has been on my radar since it was published and I finally got around to reading it. I can easily say that it was an excellent read and well worth the time.
The author, James L. Swanson, writes in a very easy going colloquial style. In fact, there are times in the text where the writing seems a little too simplistic, but those are just fleeting moments. Mr. Swanson is very good at creating moments of tension and high drama. This is al
Jan 13, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Manhunt is a dramatic but factually accurate and well rendered non fictional account of John Wilkes Booth’s flight following Lincoln’s assassination.

While the book is impeccably researched and stays true to its detailed coverage of Booth and his young assistant, it does struggle to maintain consistent threads on the other co-conspirators. For example there was quite a bit of coverage on the simultaneous assassination attempt of Secretary of State Seward but we heard little about Powell in the la
Apr 04, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed the book and learned ever so much more about that point in our history than I ever did in school. I appreciate the accounts were taken from primary sources, newspapers and other research - for that reason I have more confidence in the intrepretation by Swanson. I certainly recomend it for people who learned a light version of the events, like myself, and have a curiosity as to what could drive a person to assassinate a president.
Will Hubbard
Nov 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of my favorite non-fiction reads of all time. Thrilling and full of surprising facts about the events and characters involved.
JD Carruthers
Mar 25, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I was impressed by James Swanson's book, Manhunt: the 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer, but unfortunately not favorably so. To begin, Swanson treats his subject in such light and casual detail that any serious student of history or anyone with an academic interest in Lincoln's assassination would be poorly served to waste time with this book. Swanson's intended audience is strictly the retail public.

Swanson begins his book with "a note to the reader" in which he makes the claim, "This story is
Sara the Librarian
It probably goes without saying by now that any time I delve into historical non-fiction the first thing that occurs to me is how little I know about my own country's history. It's never exactly sold to your average American school kid as anything other than the dry memorization of dates and the odd recitation of speeches like the Gettysburg Address. I mean my god we called it "Social Studies" when I was in school.

I wish we'd read things like Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer when I
Feb 07, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: general-history
I don't consider myself a Civil War buff by any stretch of the imagination, but I've had this book in my TBR list for years, and I am trying to incorporate long-standing books into my rotation rather than just new, flashy titles. I was very pleasantly surprised by this book, and I found it engaging and suspenseful, which is not always easily accomplished with a non-fiction story that is also substantive. The story picks up shortly before Lincoln's assassination, and follows both the hunters and ...more
Saleh MoonWalker
Onvan : Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer - Nevisande : James L. Swanson - ISBN : 60518502 - ISBN13 : 9780060518509 - Dar 434 Safhe - Saal e Chap : 2006 ...more
There's something magical about a book that is so thoroughly and meticulously researched, yet reads effortlessly and with great entertainment value. It's so easy to make history feel stuffy and dry, but this book is far from it. This is the illuminated kind of nonfiction, aiming more for portraying life than delivering data into the reader's head. Perhaps not for history buffs, but more for people like me, who got solid Bs in history class because text books are so much less interesting than col ...more
Carol Storm
Feb 21, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was halfway through this before I thought to post a review. It is amazing! I loved Fortune's Fool, the biography of John Wilkes Booth. But this book is really everything they say it is and more. It's a crime thriller, an adventure story, and an amazing portrait of America in the Civil War era. The one thing I can't describe is how well James L. Swanson writes. There's a passage where one of Booth's followers is cornered, and holding a pickaxe. Swanson describes exactly how much damage he could ...more
In the age of social media we are instantly transported to a conflict within minutes. A mass shooting, a rebellion in a foreign country, Tiger Woods accident, hurricanes, tornadoes, sports records that are broken, it is endless visual stream of media pictures and videos describing events that occur in our world. In 1865 social media was in its infancy. With the help of Matthew Brady and his camera the world would find out about Abe Lincoln's assassination. Better yet the world would also find ou ...more
Read this book for a fascinating glimpse into the mid-19th century, not for the writing. The author uses first-hand accounts, trial testimony etc. to re-construct some events leading up to Lincoln's assassination and then, mostly, the manhunt for John Wilkes Booth and his co-conspirators. (Did you even know there were co-conspirators?) It includes many long quotations from correspondence, diary entries, witness statements etc., all of which I greatly enjoyed reading. The author's own writing lef ...more
Sep 10, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book solidly succeeds in the genre of works that promise to be of compelling reading to the non-history-minded reader while being based on solid historical research. James L. Swanson, a historian and attorney in Washington D.C., shows his knowledge of everything Abraham Lincoln. He provides a new twist to the subject of Lincoln's assassination and aftermath in a field which is jammed to the rafters with Civil War/Lincoln books.

Swanson's twist in writing of this period of national distress
Kressel Housman
I read this as a follow-up to Sarah Vowell’s Assassination Vacation, but whereas that was history mixed with humor, this was 100% history that read like a detective/adventure story. I was definitely on the edge of my seat in spots, especially at the end. Earlier in the book, however, I had a more perverse reaction: I found myself actually rooting for John Wilkes Booth to keep evading the manhunters because I didn’t want the book to end. Mostly though, I am thankful to say, I hated him as much as ...more
Andrew Hiller
Jan 02, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have to admit I'm a bit stymied as to how to review this book. The tale told is a non fiction, well-researched, dramatic narrative of the hunt for John Wilkes Booth, murderer of Abraham Lincoln. The confusion is based mostly in that the book is well-written, has great details, quotes, and descriptions. It's pacing is more than solid. In fact, the story moves at almost a sprinter's pace. The characterizations are far from wooden and revealed information I wasn't aware of it... and yet, I found ...more
Aug 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
April 1865 was one of the most momentous months in American history. Richmond fell to Union troops, Jefferson Davis was on the run, the government of the Confederacy collapsed, Lincoln was assassinated, and a 12 day manhunt was launched for his killer, John Wilkes Booth. In Manhunt, James Swanson has written an incredible book taking the reader through the days before the assassination to the capture, killing and burial of Booth, to the trial, imprisonment, and execution of co-conspirators, to t ...more
Tom Stamper
Jun 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-history
Manhunt's chief virtue is that there is suspense throughout Booth's flee from the authorities although we already know the ending or we think we do. I had heard the same version in so many accounts that I was surprised by all that I didn't know.

James Swanson does an excellent job of giving life to the tertiary characters, the people that were only names in many other accounts. There is a nice sequence where conspirator Lewis Powell is trying to assassinate William Seward and we get to know Sewa
Aug 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a very compelling account of the murder of Abraham Lincoln and the chase for John Wilkes Booth that followed. It's told in a back and forth way, which leaves you with cliffhangers at each chapter's end, in the style of many a good thriller-type mystery. Although you know the outcome of the attempted assassinations, Swanson somehow still has you on the edge of your seat. This would be a good book for anyone interested in history but not entirely accustomed to reading it straight up. The b ...more
Bookmarks Magazine

James L. Swanson's Web site includes a glowing review quotation from Patricia Cornwell. The correlation is apt since critics find this nonfiction account of Booth's getaway as compelling as the best thrillers. Swanson, a legal scholar with the Cato Institute and a Lincoln historian, knows the assassination inside and out; he's been studying Lincoln since he was a child, and his previous book (with Daniel R. Weinberg), Lincoln's Assassins, was a photographic and archival study of Booth and his co

Jan 18, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really liked this book a lot. I had no idea what all was involved with the assasination of Abraham Lincoln. It makes me wonder what they teach us in school. I highly recommend reading it.
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James Swanson is the Edgar Award-winning author of the New York Times bestseller Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer. Swanson has degrees in history from the University of Chicago, where he was a student of John Hope Franklin, and in law from the University of California, Los Angeles.

He has held a number of government and think-tank posts in Washington, D.C., including at the United St

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“At the supreme moment of victory they cheered their Father Abraham, the man who, after a shaky start in office, learned how to command armies, grew in vision and eloquence, brought down slavery, and who, just six weeks ago, had given the most graceful and emotionally stunning inaugural address in the history of the American presidency.” 2 likes
“The best illustrated histories of the assassination are Twenty Days by Dorothy Meserve Kunhardt and Philip B. Kunhardt Jr., and Lincoln’s Assassins: Their Trial and Execution by James L. Swanson and Daniel R. Weinberg. Twenty Days contains more than three hundred black-and-white photos of the people and places connected to the assassination and Lincoln’s funeral.” 2 likes
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