Monday, July 15, 2013

Book review: John Wilkes Booth: Beyond the Grave by W. C. Jameson

Published on: July 16, 2013
Page Count: 208
Genre: historical nonfiction
My Reading Format: ARC for Kindle provided by NetGalley
Available Formats: Hardcover

My Review:

Suppose that John Wilkes Booth, President Lincoln's assassin, wasn't shot either by himself or by a federal investigator when caught in a barn on a Virginia farm 11 days after the president was shot. Suppose someone was in place to act as Booth and the real Booth escaped, living and traveling both internationally and in the United States until his death decades later. Did conspirators fool federal investigators, or was the whole thing a set-up and cover-up? These are the questions explored in Jameson's John Wilkes Booth: Beyond the Grave. Jameson, a descendant of Booth himself, took family lore and his own research and turned it into a good case for why the man thought to be Booth wasn't him after all. The book moves through three main parts exploring Booth's background and the planning he and others underwent to first kidnap, then assassinate the president; the generally accepted history book version of the events before, during and after the assassination and the inconsistencies in the official version; and what Jameson believes actually and most likely happened.

The background information is appreciated, and it was also helpful that the book includes the version of what we've all learned before delving into that version's many holes. While very interesting and certainly makes the reader consider all that may have been at work to assassinate Lincoln and help the assassin escape, it will be hard for the average reader (or even the above average reader) to keep it all straight. Many of those involved in the scheme had several aliases, which are used interchangeably throughout the book. Even without all the extra names to remember, there were many people involved. While neither of these things are the author's fault, a glossary at the beginning or end of the book listing each person, their aliases and their part in the assassination plot or investigation would have been tremendously helpful.

Though Jameson's writing style involves short sentences that stick strictly with the facts and only as much description as absolutely necessary (this isn't my favorite kind of writing to read), he's put together an interesting case that certainly will make you wonder. If you like conspiracy theories, Lincoln lore or Civil War-era history, you'll probably like this book.

Two and a half out of five stars

1 comment:

  1. Interesting all around. I like a good conspiracy theory but was not aware that there was one surrounding Booth. I am now intrigued and may have to get this for my father, who loves history, nonfiction, and adores the Civil War era in particular. (That way I can borrow it from him when he's done!)