Five books on Lincoln’s assassination you should have

6 05 2008

What I originally believed to be a head cold has turned into a serious case of allergies, which is weird because in 44 years, I can’t remember a time when I suffered like I am now. I took some medicine about an hour ago and it’s starting to kick in, so I guess technically I’m writing under the influence (although I doubt it will make either the allergies or my writing any better).

Be that as it may, I wanted to write this week about five books you should have concerning Lincoln’s assassination. These five represent what I believe to be the best currently available. Someday, when I’m in a snarky mood, I’ll tell you which ones to avoid.

These are in alphabetical order.

American Brutus by Michael Kauffman — Mike Kauffman has taken a lifetime of interest in Lincoln’s assassination and an uncanny ability to ferret out the smallest detail and turned it into one of the best books ever written about the crime. No detail is too small to escape Mike’s attention. This man even once burned down a tobacco barn to see how long it would have taken for the type that John Wilkes Booth was cornered in to be destroyed. The most controversial part of Mike’s work concerns his theory that Booth consciously attempted to draw people into his web of conspiracy so that if they ever had to implicate him, they would be implicating themselves. American Brutus will stand for a long time as the go-to book on Lincoln’s murder.

Beware the People Weeping by Thomas Reed Turner — Based on his doctoral dissertation, Beware the People Weeping was written by Turner in 1982 and was one of the first books on Lincoln’s assassination to be written from a scholarly perspective. In this tour de force, Turner studies reaction throughout various sectors of society concerning Lincoln’s assassination, including the south, from the pulpit and the controversies surrounding the trial of the conspirators. This work is far better than Turner’s later attempt to write a small, single-volume history on Lincoln’s assassination.

Blood on the Moon by Edward J. Steers Jr. — Was Dr. Samuel Mudd just an innocent country doctor who was simply following his Hippocratic oath when a stranger knocked on his door after suffering a broken leg? Or did he know the man who came to his house after shooting the 16th president? Steers argues in this magnificent work that Mudd not only knew who Booth was, but that they had met at least twice before Lincoln’s murder. Steers, whose background is in molecular genetics, is a careful and serious researcher and historian. If I had room for just two books on my shelf, they would be Kauffman’s and Steer’s.

The Great American Myth by George S. Bryan — Although written in 1940 (on the flyleaf of my copy, it shows the price at $3.75), this book was one of the first to attempt to counter the type of history written by Otto Eisenschiml, who had published Why Was Lincoln Murdered three years earlier. The books was based on newspaper and primary manuscript sources as well as numerous secondary source materials. It was updated and reissued in 1990 with an introduction by William Hanchett.

The Lincoln Murder Conspiracies by William Hanchett — This was also one of the first books written by a university professor, first published in 1983. Hanchett destroys some cherished myths concerning Lincoln’s assassination but much of his venom is directed toward Eisenschiml, who is mercilessly raked over the literary coals by Hanchett. I’ve often said that anyone who wants to read Eisenschiml should be sure they have Hanchett’s book next to them.

While there are several other books out there, none, in my opinion, match the quality you will find in these works. They are readily available and should find a place in your library as soon as possible.




10 responses

7 05 2008
Randal Berry

OMG! Where to start?
I’ll get back to you when I get my thoughts together.
BTW, glad your feeling better!


8 05 2008
Randal Berry

Ok, Ok, I’ve calmed down! J/K!

I agree 99% with your list.
Actually in the order you gave them.(alphabetically).

However, Hanchett’s book (in my opinion) offers ZERO in the foundation of the basic story of the assassination as we already know.
Hanchett’s book is only his personal diatribe against Eisenschiml and sadly diminishes his reputation as an “assassination scholar”.

I rank his book with Eisenschiml, Bates, Swanson, Tidwell, Hall, Gaddy, Forrester, and many other “horrible” books written about the assassination.(and yes, “Dark Union”!
And I, for one, would like to see “your” list of books to “avoid”

This is only my opinion, and I hope folks don’t get bent out of shape about it.
I would like to see other’s opinions as well.

Sorry for the long post.

Randal Berry

8 05 2008
Rob Wick


As always, your opinions are most welcome here. I am curious about your views on Hanchett’s book. Why do you feel that his attack on Eisenschiml “diminishes” his reputation? My own view is that before his book, Eisenschiml got something of a free pass by many. I view Hanchett as a necessary corrective to that.

Someday I’ll give the worst. Also, thanks for your comments about my health. I hope the allergies will be gone soon.


9 05 2008
Mike Peters


Great list! I would only add one & it’s more of a reference — “The Trial: The Assasination of Abraham Lincoln & the Trial of the Conspirators,” edited by Steers.

Quite pricey but a worthy inclusion into the library of those researching the assasination.


9 05 2008
Randal Berry

I feel that Hanchett “diminished” his reputation by attacking Eisenschiml soley because later research showed Eisenschiml was wrong about a lot of things, including Stanton. You gotta admit, Eisenschiml’s never said (what I read anyway) that Stanton was behind Lincoln’s death, he merely “asked” if this was the case and based his book on the question! In fact, Hanchett dedicated a whole chapter tearing down Eisenschiml.(Chapter 6). Tearing someone down to build yourself up “diminishes” themself to me. Hanchett sprinkled Eisenschiml’s name throughout his book only to prove his point that Otto was wrong. (and he was).

Sure, I agree, Otto was given a “free” pass as you say for many years, and I think that Bryants book made a valient effort to “combat” Eisenschiml’s “theory” about what really happened. Finis Bates sold a ton of books on his “theory”, (His perception was wrong also). I liked Bryants book very much. I also like Theodore Roscoe’s book, and I know how you feel about that. We can agree to disagree and what I like about your web log is, you allow me and others to state our opinions.

I believe you get “more” comments when you write about the assassination than any other stories you have written, this is a testament that Lincoln’s death and the players involved is still fasinating to this day.

I, for one, am waiting for your book on Conger to be published. I think a book on Conger belongs besides other books regarding the assassination.

Randal Berry

9 05 2008
Rob Wick


Concerning Roscoe, you’re right about agreeing to disagree. But I would never expect anyone to completely agree with everything I say or believe. Plus, if I only let people who completely agreed with me post, even I wouldn’t want to visit here.

Let me mull over your comments on Hanchett though before I answer.

I have to agree that more people respond to the assassination posts, but my interests are too broad to keep it just to that topic (plus, after a while even I get bored with it LOL).

As for my book, I’m also waiting for it to get done…seems the elves aren’t working as hard as they’re supposed to be! 🙂

Mike, while I own Ed’s book on the trial (which currently on Alibris is running between $50 and $85), I’ve personally never liked the Pittman transcripts. I bought Ed’s book for the essays written by him and others. Not having the questions asked and answered makes it (in my mind) not as good as Ben: Perley Poore’s version, which usually can only be found in libraries and usually in the Arno Press reprint. But, if Pittman is the only thing a person has access to, than one can’t be too choosy.

Appreciate the comments!


23 05 2008

Hi Rob,
Just came across your list and noticed that I have 3 of your 5. Was wondering since you include Kauffman and Steers, they have opposite views on Mudd’s guilt (Steers) or innocence (Kauffman), where do you come down on this?


ps…also read your take on Manhunt….very interesting piece…when people ask me for a place to start I always point them to Kauffman & Steers.

23 05 2008
Rob Wick


Welcome. To be honest, I’m not sure where I stand. For years the standard story was that Mudd was just an innocent country doctor (a myth propagated by his family and helped along by Hollywood) but if anything, I think Ed has shattered that. Whether Mudd was as guilty as Ed makes him out to be I’m not sure. I know this is fence-sitting, but the plain fact of the matter is I just don’t know.


26 06 2008

[…] like “Five books on Lincoln’s Assassination You Should Have” come to mind, as do his posts on Everton J. Conger (later life), one of the folks responsible for […]

9 08 2008
Geoff Elliott

All excellent choices. I would also like to suggest the 1965 book “Twenty Days” by Dorothy M. Kunhardt. It’s more “picture book” than substantive writing, but it contains wonderful and rare photos of the assassination scenes, the hunt for Booth, the hangings of the conspirators, the funerals held in the various cities, etc. Mrs. Kunhardt was, of course, the daughter of Frederick Meserve who was the foremost collector of Lincoln photographs in his time.

Geoff Elliott

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