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.