Summary and book reviews of Manhunt by James Swanson

Manhunt

The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer

By James L. Swanson

Manhunt
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  • Hardcover: Feb 2006,
    448 pages.
    Paperback: Feb 2007,
    496 pages.

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Book Summary

The murder of Abraham Lincoln set off the greatest manhunt in American history -- the pursuit and capture of John Wilkes Booth. From April 14 to April 26, 1865, the assassin led Union cavalry and detectives on a wild twelve-day chase through the streets of Washington, D.C., across the swamps of Maryland, and into the forests of Virginia, while the nation, still reeling from the just-ended Civil War, watched in horror and sadness.

At the very center of this story is John Wilkes Booth, America's notorious villain. A Confederate sympathizer and a member of a celebrated acting family, Booth threw away his fame and wealth for a chance to avenge the South's defeat. For almost two weeks, he confounded the manhunters, slipping away from their every move and denying them the justice they sought.

Based on rare archival materials, obscure trial transcripts, and Lincoln's own blood relics, Manhunt is a fully documented work, but it is also a fascinating tale of murder, intrigue, and betrayal. A gripping hour-by-hour account told through the eyes of the hunted and the hunters, this is history as you've never read it before.

Chapter Two: "I Have Done It"

Legend has it that John Wilkes Booth was hiding outside in the shadows near the front door of Ford's as the presidential carriage rocked down the uneven dirt street and slowed to a stop, but no one really knows where he was at that precise moment. On April 29, 1865, Clara Harris wrote in a letter, "They say we were watched by the assassins; ay, as we alighted from the carriage . . . and when I think of that fiend barring himself in with us, my blood runs cold." Wherever Booth was it is almost certain that somehow he verified with his own eyes that the Lincolns were actually inside the theatre. And he probably wondered at the identity of Lincoln's guests and gauged whether Major Rathbone looked like the type who could pose a threat to his plans. It didn't matter, really; no one was going to stop him from going through with it.

Next door at Peter Taltavul's bar, the Star Saloon, it was a night like any ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Introduction

The murder of Abraham Lincoln set off the greatest manhunt in American history. From April 14 to April 26, 1865, the assassin, John Wilkes Booth, led Union cavalry and detectives on a wild twelve-day chase through the streets of Washington, D.C., across the swamps of Maryland, and into the forests of Virginia, while the nation, still reeling from the just-ended Civil War, watched in horror and sadness. James L. Swanson's Manhunt is a fascinating tale of murder, intrigue, and betrayal. A gripping hour-by-hour account told through the eyes of the hunted and the hunters, this is history as you've never read it before.


Questions for Discussion

  1. What if John Wilkes Booth had missed?
  2. What if not ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

Swanson has taken a piece of history and presented it as an action-adventure story seen through the eyes of the hunters and the hunted - and quite a story it is too! He cuts through the overwhelming weight of history to focus solely on the hour-by-hour events immediately before Lincoln's assassination, and the 12-day chase following it (with a short discussion at the end covering the trials of the four co-conspirators and the post-assassination lives of those caught up in the chase).   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

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Media Reviews
The New York Times - Janet Maslin

Nearly 141 years later, the body of literature about Lincoln's death is immense and seemingly exhaustive. Yet James L. Swanson's Manhunt has found a reasonably new angle from which to approach its material ... he has successfully streamlined the assassination's aftermath into an action-adventure version of these events. He makes Manhunt very accessible and infuses it with high drama.

Publishers Weekly

... the story is shot through with breathless, vivid, even gory detail. With a deft, probing style and no small amount of swagger, Swanson has crafted pure narrative pleasure, sure to satisfy the casual reader and Civil War aficionado alike.

Booklist - Gilbert Taylor

Artfully arranging Booth's flight with the frantic federal dragnet that sought him, Swanson so tensely dramatizes the chase, capture, and killing of Booth that serious shelf-life (plus a movie version starring Harrison Ford) awaits his account of the assassination.

Library Journal

Ably researched and seamlessly written, this engrossing book is recommended for all Civil War and Lincoln collections-and all libraries.

Author Blurb Doris Kearns Goodwin
James Swanson has written a terrific narrative of the hunt for Lincoln's killers that will mesmerize the reader from start to finish just as the actual manhunt mesmerized the entire nation. It is a triumphant book.

Author Blurb Patricia Cornwell
Brilliant! Absolutely haunting. The medical, investigative and historical details of Lincoln's assassination make you feel as if you were there, watching every second of John Wilkes Booth's cunningly calculated violence and a great president's inevitable and horrific death. Swanson's amazing account places you in the room as Lincoln lies dying and carries you across the countryside as Booth escapes. This historical book is almost impossible to put down.

Reader Reviews
Glenda York

Excellent recounting of historic event
James Swanson makes the hunt for Lincoln's killer read like a fast paced novel. He makes history come alive for the casual reader as well as giving the history buff a good read as well. After reading his book I dug out all the supplementary ...   Read More

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Booth's father, Junius Brutus Booth, emigrated from England in 1821 and quickly established himself as one of the great actors of the day. Most of his children were born out of wedlock, and most followed him onto the stage. John Wilkes Booth started his career in 1855 in Baltimore, and then in Philadelphia. Initially, he didn't show promise but in 1858 he moved to Richmond, Virginia where he became more confident as an actor and grew popular with audiences.

He temporarily enlisted in the Confederate army in 1959 in order to witness the hanging of abolitionist John Brown - afterwards he returned to Richmond and was discharged. He did not fight in the Civil War (apparently having promised his mother that he would not ...

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