Updated December 21, 2022

Historical Non Fiction Novel “Killing Lincoln” Book Review

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Historical Non Fiction Novel “Killing Lincoln” Book Review essay
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The invigorating events that occur before, during, and after the assassination of the 16th president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, are recounted by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard in their bestselling novel released in 2011, “Killing Lincoln”. This is a historical nonfiction novel that is told in a captivating way that will make it extremely difficult for readers to stop reading. In the book, numerous themes are present. The most prominent one is to be careful who you trust. John Wilkes Booth was a known celebrity and adored by people all across America.

No one suspected that such a loved man like Booth would ever murder someone, especially the president. The authors want the readers to know that everyone is capable of murder, despite their status in society. In this paper, the reader will get a chance to get a summary of “Killing Lincoln”, understand the positive and negative components of the story, and get to comprehend my opinions on this New York Times bestselling novel. The novel is divided into four different parts entitled “Total War”, “The Ides of Death”, “The Long Good Friday”, and “The Chase”. “Total War” takes place at City Point, Virginia on April 1, 1865.

In this first section, the raging Civil War that is occurring between the confederacy (South) and Union (North) is discussed. The Union, led by General Ulysses S. Grant, is fighting so they can maintain their country and abolish slavery while the Confederacy, led by General Robert E. Lee, is in the war to continue their slave-holding way of life. Grant is certain that he will beat Lee’s army because the South is experiencing such horrible conditions and poor morale. During the war, a series of unfortunate events, such as the brutal Battle of Sayler’s Creek, causes General Lee to surrender because his withered and exhausted army reached the point where they no longer could surpass the force of the Union. Lincoln decided to release the confederates without facing any severe consequences.

However, folks like actor and celebrity, John Wilkes Booth, remained to have a great amount of wrath for the president. The second section of “Killing Lincoln”, “The Ides of Death”, began with the celebrations of the much-awaited end of the Civil War by citizens of Washington D.C. However, the Southerners, including John Wilkes Booth, were livid over the results of the war since they lost. It was revealed that one of the reasons Booth nurtures a deep hatred for the nation’s father figure may have been due to the fact that he despised his father, since he never recognized his son’s special talent.

Booth was a member of a kidnapping conspiracy that was planning to kidnap the president (Abraham Lincoln), the vice president (Andrew Johnson), and secretary of state (William H. Seward) so the union would be filled with chaos. His co-conspirators included a former pharmacy clerk, David Herold, Confederate Sympathizer and widow, Mary Surratt, German carriage repairer, George Atzerodt, and Confederate soldier and spy, Lewis Powell. These conspirators formulated a plan to ensure the death of these three folks. The third section of the novel, “The Long Good Friday”, took place on April 14, 1865 in Washington D.C.. It began with Lincoln performing his daily routines in the White House. Mary Lincoln had bought tickets for “Aladdin” or “The Wonderful Lamp” at Grover’s Theatre.

However, when she discovered that Laura Keene, one of the most famous actresses in the nation, was going to perform in “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s Theatre, she told Lincoln that she wanted to go and watch the play. General Grant and his wife, Julia Grant, were supposed to accompany the Lincolns to watch the play, but since an unhappy Julia wanted to catch the 6 PM train to New Jersey, Grant decided not to for did not want to disrespect his wife’s wishes. Since he was an actor, John Wilkes Booth had performed at Ford’s Theatre countless times before and therefore, was quite familiar with it. When Booth got his getaway horse from Pumphrey’s stable, he did two runs of his escape. William Crook, one of Lincoln’s bodyguards, was deeply concerned for the safety of his president.

However, his concern for him grew when Lincoln told Crook “Goodbye” instead of the usual “Goodnight”. While he watched the play, people clearly saw that Lincoln was having a great time. John Parker, one of Lincoln’s irresponsible bodyguards, decided to have a drink because he was bored. Lincoln’s death could have been prevented if Parker just did his job. Booth entered the theater and went to the state box that Lincoln resided in. He stood behind Lincoln and shot him in the back of his head at a scene when the audience erupted in laughter. Booth escaped by leaping from the balcony of the state box, which caused him to break his fibula in the process. George Atzerodt was responsible for killing vice president Andrew Johnson. However, he failed to fulfill this task because he got drunk and was in the wrong state of mind.

Lewis Powell went to the secretary of state’s house and was greeted by his servant, William Bell. After the altercation that occurred between the two about who would deliver Seward’s medicine, Powell stormed inside and hurt anyone who was in his way including William Seward’s children, Frederick, August, and Fanny, Seward’s bodyguard, Sgt. George Robinson, and his target, secretary of state, William Seward. Seward wasn’t mortally wounded but he was in a coma for a few days. Although Lincoln’s wounds were fatal, he was still alive. Many doctors who attended the play came to the president’s aid, but they weren’t able to save him. He was taken to the Peterson House across the street and eventually died shortly after 7 A.M. the next morning.

The last section of the novel, “The Chase”, described the hunt for the folks responsible for assassinating the secretary of state and president. Booth and Herold had managed to flee to Maryland and found refuge in the home of Confederate sympathizer and doctor, Dr. Samuel Mudd. Witnesses in the theater had already identified Booth as Lincoln’s assassin. After they searched through Atzerodt’s bag, police were able to find a book that connected him to Booth. Anonymous tips from people lead police to raid Mary Surrat’s boardinghouse and Booth’s hotel room, in which they found multitudes of clues that implicated other co-conspirators, Samuel Arnold and Michael O’Laughlen.

Since Booth and Herold couldn’t stay at Dr. Mudd’s for too long, the two waited for Thomas Jones, a man sent by a confederate sympathizer, to ferry them across to safety. Jones provided lots for the assassins that uplifted their spirits. However, when Booth read the newspapers he received, he was filled with despair and ire when no one congratulated him for his actions. All the papers bashed him by calling him a coward and other negative words. Louis Weichmann, one of Mary Surratt’s boarders, provided the police with useful information regarding the frequent visits of Booth and his fellow conspirators to her boarding home. This clue caused the investigators to arrest Surratt.

Unfortunately, Lewis Powell decided to visit Surratt while the detectives were present. At first, he had tried lying his way out, but when they had asked William Bell, the servant of the secretary of state, to identify the man out of a group of other suspects, he immediately recognized Lewis Powell as the man who insulted him, brutally injured his employer, and killed many members of the family. Atzerodt managed to hide in plain sight. However, when he openly supported the assassination of Lincoln, people began to suspect him and was eventually arrested and hung. Dr. Samuel Mudd was arrested when the detectives discovered that he was lying to him about whether he knew the identity of the man [Booth] who stayed at his home.

Eventually, Booth and Herold’s hiding spot at the Garrett farmhouse was discovered by the investigators when eyewitnesses identified the men as they were on the way to it. Herold decided to surrender and was immediately taken away in handcuffs. When Booth refused to surrender, Sgt. Boston Corbett fired a bullet that caused severe damage to his spinal cord and caused him to fall into paralysis. Mary Surratt, Lewis Powell, George Atzerodt, and David Herold were all found guilty and were hung. Dr. Samuel Mudd, Michael O’Laughlen, Ned Spangler, and Samuel Arnold were sentenced to a remote penitentiary in the Gulf of Mexico. Overall, “Killing Lincoln” was a remarkable novel, but there were quite a few negative components as well.

One major positive thing about the novel is that it was tremendously interesting. Generally, historical nonfiction novels tend to bore the reader because they just state straight facts. However, the authors of this book manage to retell the events of Lincoln’s assassination in a modern and compelling manner that truly interests the reader while being able to get the facts across. I, myself, am not the biggest fan of history novels, but this definitely altered my attitude. Another thing that I liked about this book is the fact that it included an afterword. The afterword gave information of the lives of the people in the book post assassination. It provided information regarding the ways in which the assassination of the sixteenth president impacted the future of everyone around him.

There were quite a number of paraphernalia in “Killing Lincoln” that I wasn’t fond of. For one, the factuality of the novel is questionable. Although majority of the novel’s facts were correct, there were few minor errors. For example, in chapter 39, the authors said that John Wilkes Booth carved a small hole in the wall of the back of the state box so he could get a clearer view of his target. Historians later discovered through a letter that the hole was carved by Harry Ford so the guard [John Parker] could observe Lincoln easily. In my opinion, one should not write a nonfiction novel if they are not wholly certain that their facts are correct. Also, throughout the book, the authors tell us what Booth’s inner thoughts are.

This is obviously fictional because no one will ever know what someone is thinking. Despite the minor factual errors in the novel, I still gained an abundance of historical knowledge. Prior to reading this novel, I was a little hazy when it came to the Civil War and how the nation was under Lincoln’s presidency. As I was reading it, I was able to get information regarding the brutal battles of the war, the unfortunate deaths in Lincoln’s family, and the contrasting opinions of the North and South. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who enjoys reading thriller, page turner books. In summation, “Killing Lincoln” is a historical drama novel that reiterates the assassination of the sixteenth president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.

The book places more emphasis on the actual plot to murder Lincoln, which in turn, exaggerates the events that occurred. The book is divided into four parts: “Total War”, “The Ides of Death”, “The Long Good Friday”, and “The Chase”. The first section talks about the war, while the second part discusses life after the war comes to an end. The third segment includes the actual assassinations, and the fourth one provides information about the hunt for the assassins. This novel was quite intriguing for a historical novel, which made it an easy read. Although there were a few historical inaccuracies, it should not turn away from the fact that this is a brilliantly written and educational novel.

Historical Non Fiction Novel “Killing Lincoln” Book Review essay

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Historical Non Fiction Novel “Killing Lincoln” Book Review. (2021, Sep 20). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/historical-non-fiction-novel-killing-lincoln/

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