ambern’s CBR III Review #12: Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell

So Sarah Vowell is a bit morbid, and it is highly entertaining.  In this book, Vowell goes all over the country to sites involved in the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley.  She is obsessed with the US and its history, it’s like a replacement to religion, and her insightful and witty take on our history makes for a really fun book about some really horrible events.

A good portion of the book is devoted to the Lincoln assassination, but this is hardly surprising.  Lincoln contributed more to this country than either Garfield or McKinley and his death has been studied more.  She talks about the facts and the conspiracies surrounding his death, most notably about Dr. Mudd, who fixed Booth’s leg.  All of it was very interesting but I found myself enjoying the sections on Garfield and McKinley the most, probably because they aren’t discussed as much in history books.

Garfield really didn’t get a chance to do anything, his presidency lasted less than a year and more people followed his slow death than anything he did while in office.  His assassin, Charles Guiteau, was certifiable and went to the rope truly believing that god would punish those that didn’t appreciate what he did for them.  His trial was ridiculous and apparently he couldn’t even get laid in a free love community (Oneida, the people that now bring us quality silverware).

Vowell compares McKinley often to George W. Bush, which makes him much less sympathetic.  Of course this was the president that got us into the Spanish American war and took over Puerto Rico, Guam, the Philippines, and Hawaii, trying to civilize them, so I’m not sure if there can be any sympathy for him.  His assassination by anarchist Leon Czolgosz leads to a lot less colorful trial than Guiteau’s, because while both were insane, Czolgosz at least had the decency to be serious about his actions.

The book is more than just history, all though that’s enough for me.  Vowell puts in anecdotes about her assassination pilgrimage and is so clearly excited about the subject that it is a pleasure to read.  There are so many connections made to people that I wouldn’t have even thought of when researching this material.  All the while, Vowell keeps things light and funny in way that few people can.

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