In Print | Manhunt: the 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer

 SEARCHING FOR BOOTH | Swanson’s richly-detailed story of the chase

Yesterday was Tax Day, but also the 143rd anniversary of the death of President Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was shot at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D. C., on the evening of April 14, 1865, by Southern sympathizer John Wilkes Booth and died on the morning of the 15th without ever regaining consciousness.

Coincidentally, I also happened to finish the book “Manhunt: the 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer” yesterday as well after listening to the audiobook version on and off for the last several months. Most of what I’ve read about Lincoln deals with the assassination. Swanson’s meticulously-researched book draws on a staggering amount of original source material – including newspapers of the day, letters written by Booth and his co-conspirators and eyewitness accounts from those who protected Booth following his shooting of LIncoln – to tell an engrossing story of the survival of the killer.

“Manhunt” reads like historical fiction, with an emhasis on the prose, but it’s fact – fact that turns many of the myths about Booth on edge.

From the review by L. D. Meagher of CNN:

The common perception is that John Wilkes Booth, a failed actor, suffered a mental breakdown over the imminent Union victory in the Civil War and in a fit of madness struck out at Lincoln, the recently re-elected U.S. president. Virtually every element of that perception is simply false.

If it did nothing else, “Manhunt: The Twelve-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer” by James L. Swanson would be worth reading for the way it smashes the popular idea that Booth was the consummate “lone nut.”

Swanson makes it abundantly clear in the opening pages that Booth — not only not a “failed actor,” but a celebrity of the first magnitude and member of America’s most prominent theatrical family (imagine if a Barrymore or a Fonda had killed a president, and you get an idea for how astonishing Booth’s participation was) — was anything but alone. Indeed, the Lincoln assassination is the only presidential murder proven in court to be the result of a conspiracy.

You can read another excellent review of this book from The New York Times here.

“Manhunt” is a great addition to the trove of books and literature about Lincoln and the assassination. It’s a wonderful read (or “listen,” as was the case for me). and from what I’ve read about the book, it looks like it’ll be made into a major motion picture soon.


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