Jan. 12th, 2017

truepenny: artist's rendering of Sidneyia inexpectans (Sidneyia inexpectans)
The Assassin's AccompliceThe Assassin's Accomplice by Kate Clifford Larson

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

There are many phrases I can think of to describe John Wilkes Booth's plot against President Lincoln, but "madcap scheme" (118) is not one of them.

Short version: I recommend American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies instead.

Slightly longer version: Despite its claims to the contrary, this book has no new evidence or insights to offer, unless by "insight," you mean unsupported speculation about what various people must have been feeling during interrogations or while giving testimony. Larson's writing ranges from pedestrian to awful. She makes only clumsy and superficial gestures in the direction of social and gender history. She gets basic things wrong, like claiming that "a crazed John Wilkes Booth burst into [the President's] private box" (89) to assassinate Lincoln (Booth proceeded calmly, stealthily, and with obvious premeditation until after he shot Lincoln, at which point he became very stagey and theatrical . . . but still not crazed) or failing for some unfathomable reason to note that Sic semper tyrannis is the motto of the Commonwealth of Virginia and not only the slogan of John Wilkes Booth. She can't decide what her own position is, whether she admires Surratt and deplores her death as a travesty of justice, or believes that she was a contemptible traitor who was justly executed, or any of the many possible judgments in-between. Nor can she decide what she thinks about Louis Weichmann or about the military tribunal who sentenced Surratt to death. This indecision incidentally makes it impossible for her to articulate or support a thesis.


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