Reading guide for Manhunt by James L. Swanson

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The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer

by James L. Swanson

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  • First Published:
    Feb 2006, 448 pages
    Feb 2007, 496 pages

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Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!


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 only Booth, but also Lewis Powell and George Atzerodt, had accomplished their missions? Would the murders of the president, vice president, and secretary of state have plunged the Union into chaos and prolonged the Civil War?
  3. How did the Lincoln assassination change American history?
  4. What was Mary Surratt's level of culpability in the assassination? Was her execution an injustice?
  5. What of Dr. Samuel Mudd? Was he guilty, and of what?
  6. Who is the more admirable character, the actress Laura Keene or the assassin's sister, Asia Booth Clarke?
  7. Is Thomas Jones, the rebel river ghost, to be admired for his code of honor or condemned for his aid to the assassin?
  8. Is Ford's Theatre a monument to Abraham Lincoln, or his killer?
  9. In what ways, if any, is John Wilkes Booth a sympathetic character?
  10. Have we, nearly 150 years after the great crime, forgiven John Wilkes Booth?
  11. Who is the hero of Manhunt? Is there more than one?

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Harper Perennial. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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