Matthew Kresal's Reviews > Chasing Lincoln's Killer

Chasing Lincoln's Killer by James L. Swanson
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Jul 24, 2011

really liked it
Read in April, 2009

As someone interested in Presidential assassinations I got this book for the subject matter rather then for its reading level. Thinking back to some of the history books I read during my own youth I was expecting that this book would bring the story down to basics. Not only was that assertion wrong I found that Chasing Lincoln's Killer is better written then some of the adult oriented history books I've read.

Author James Swanson has done his research and done it well. Based on his adult book Manhunt (which I have yet to read) Swanson doesn't make the mistake many writers of history books for younger readers do: he treats his readers like intelligent people. Swanson uses his research to explain the backgrounds of the people involved and the context of the events taking place. Thankfully he does it without being either patronizing to readers who know the story or being boring to those who don't.

Swanson also treats the book more like a novel then a history book with his attention to details and events. Swanson doesn't just list events he describes them and goes into detail about them, giving the reader rare insight into the events of mid-April 1865 by bringing words to the mouths of long dead historical figures from actual words of those involved in the events. Swanson's descriptions of the places where the manhunt took Booth and his accomplices are worthy of any well-written novel and rarely found in the pages of a history book.

If there is any fault in the book it is that the first half of the book is dedicated to the events surrounding the assassination itself. Considering that the book is intended to focus on the manhunt that ensued after the assassination the first half of the book (approximately) focuses exclusively on the events of April 14th, 1965. While Swanson moves this section quickly and as well described as the rest of the book it seems a shame that half the book is spent on the assassination while other sections (in particular the trial of the conspirators) come across as being too short.

Yet while half the book is spent on events that surround the assassination, Chasing Lincoln's Killer is still a fine historical read. With its attention to dialogue and details, the book reads more like a novel then your average history book. The fact that it is written for a younger audience doesn't mean that Swanson brings the story down to its basics. The book is a gripping real life story that must be read to be believed.
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02/26/2016 marked as: read

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