For the average reader, a good book comes across their lap every so often and a great book lands there every other blue moon. For a more-than-average reader like myself, the likelihood of a great book opening itself up is much higher.
MANHUNT: THE TWELVE DAY CHASE FOR LINCOLN’S KILLER by James L. Swanson is one such book that I would like to share with you all. You may be asking why I’m recommending a book about a piece of history everyone already knows about front and back. Well for starters, it doesn’t take many pages to learn that you didn’t know the whole story. And secondly, if you’re one of those people, like myself, who wishes you could hop in a time machine and witness climatic moments in history, this book is your portal.
I read the assassination account to Sarabeth and we were both near tears, which is saying how vivid the retelling actually is. I felt like I could reach out and touch the back of President Lincoln’s head as Booth snuck into the vestibule to pull the infamous trigger firing off the shot the nation still hears today.
Furthermore, Manhunt turns into a rapid cat-and-mouse chase as Union soldiers ride through the thickets and country roads, passing Booth by merely yards not once but twice. Booth, with a broken leg, must employ his greatest acting talents to convince people that no, he is indeed not the assassin-at-large, but just a desperate Confederate soldier trying to hold his army together and continue the fight, so will you please take me in for the night?
It makes me wonder if Christopher Jordan Dorner is going through anything similar as I write this.
I would compare this book to CATCH ME IF YOU CAN by Frank W. Abagnale. They’re separated by a hundred years, the crimes committed in each tale are vastly different, but if you’ve seen the brilliant movie version of Catch Me, you know the kind of butterfly-feeling I’m talking about when the hunted is being ruthlessly pursued by the hunter, demanding justice to fall on his prey, yet you’re torn because something sinister inside of you is rooting for the bad guy, not so he can get away, but so that the story can continue.
It was a sad parting when I read the final pages of MANHUNT, but I am thankful that its sequel is sitting on my shelf, about the chase for Jefferson Davis. History buffs and thrill seekers alike would be doing themselves a gross misdeed by overlooking this work of art.
The book contains graphic imagery of stabbings and surgical procedures on victims of bloody crimes. Those with squeamish stomaches might want to be ready to skip a few pages.
What are your favorite history books that put you right in the action?