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Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killerby James L. Swanson
Synopses & Reviews
The murder of Abraham Lincoln set off the greatest manhunt in American history — the pursuit and capture of John Wilkes Booth. From April 14 to April 26, 1865, the assassin 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.
At the very center of this story is John Wilkes Booth, America's notorious villain. A Confederate sympathizer and a member of a celebrated acting family, Booth threw away his fame and wealth for a chance to avenge the South's defeat. For almost two weeks, he confounded the manhunters, slipping away from their every move and denying them the justice they sought.
Based on rare archival materials, obscure trial transcripts, and Lincoln's own blood relics, Manhunt is a fully documented work, but it is also 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.
"In the early days of April 1865, with the bloody war to preserve the union finished, Swanson tells us, Abraham Lincoln was 'jubilant.' Elsewhere in Washington, the other player in the coming drama of the president's assassination was miserable. Hearing Lincoln's April 10 victory speech, famed actor and Confederate die-hard John Wilkes Booth turned to a friend and remarked with seething hatred, 'That means nigger citizenship. Now, by God, I'll put him through.' On April 14, Booth did just that. With great power, passion and at a thrilling, breakneck pace, Swanson (Lincoln's Assassins: Their Trial and Execution) conjures up an exhausted yet jubilant nation ruptured by grief, stunned by tragedy and hell-bent on revenge. For 12 days, assisted by family and some women smitten by his legendary physical beauty, Booth relied on smarts, stealth and luck to elude the best detectives, military officers and local police the federal government could muster. Taking the reader into the action, the story is shot through with breathless, vivid, even gory detail. With a deft, probing style and no small amount of swagger, Swanson, a member of the Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, has crafted pure narrative pleasure, sure to satisfy the casual reader and Civil War aficionado alike. 11 b&w photos not seen by PW." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"It is said that no historical figure other than Jesus of Nazareth has been more written about than Abraham Lincoln. It is a plausible speculation, for the details of Lincoln's life and death are familiar to everyone. But the art of biography often consists of making dry bones walk, and both these new books accomplish that rare feat. Richard Carwardine, an Oxford historian, has produced perhaps... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) the most illuminating general biography since David Herbert Donald's incomparable 'Lincoln' (1995). His special assets are his command of 19th-century evangelical Protestantism and his interest in Lincoln's spiritual dimension. Carwardine deploys this special knowledge to impart a new coherence to Lincoln's emergence from Illinois lawyer to national eminence. Lincoln's mythologists sometimes tailor his creed to fit cults of facile and sentimental religiosity. Carwardine's approach is better informed. Lincoln was never a conventional churchman, and his rich spirituality, although flavored by scriptural cadences, has notable affinities with the deism of his philosophical hero, Thomas Jefferson, as well as George Washington and other founders. Certainly his spiritual bearings had little in common with the evangelical zeal aroused by the so-called Second Great Awakening, although that zeal became a force in the political movement that carried him to the White House. Carwardine negotiates this paradox with skill and depth. He is also persuasive on the political import of Lincoln's beliefs. For Lincoln, a moral politics became imperative in 1854. The galvanizing event was Sen. Stephen A. Douglas's Kansas-Nebraska Act revoking the Missouri Compromise, which since 1820 had barred slavery from U.S. territories north of 36 degrees 30 minutes north latitude. Its repeal, reinforced three years later by the Supreme Court's Dred Scott ruling, seemed to adopt as national law the extreme Southern view that slavery was entitled to be established wherever the U.S. flag flew. Lincoln, after some reflection, took a categorical view of the resulting Nebraska crisis: America was in danger of repudiating the polestar of republican government, the principles of the Declaration of Independence. In his famous debates with Lincoln, Douglas argued that the organization of new governments in the territories would in practice require local 'police' regulations. He probably hoped that those regulations would be inhospitable to slavery, but in any event they would subject slavery to democratic choice — and who could quarrel with that? Lincoln did, vehemently, and the violence in 'bleeding Kansas,' where a pro-slavery minority sought to impose the 'peculiar institution' on Nebraska's companion territory, reinforced his apprehensions. The Declaration of Independence, Lincoln argued, could not mean that all men were equal in condition or capacity. It did mean that they were entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — and it encompassed slaves and free blacks. Drawing on his long-standing personal dislike of slavery, Lincoln drew a bright line; that line formed the organizing principle of the Free Soil movement and the Republican and Union parties and propelled him to the presidency. Carwardine's book also focuses revealing light on some dim corners of the Civil War story itself. There were, he notes, anomalies in Lincoln's view that secession had no constitutional merit and was an illegal rebellion. If secession was rebellion, West Virginia's secession from Virginia was also illegal, however advantageous to Lincoln's effort to keep the Border South in the Union, since no state could constitutionally be divided without its own consent. And under his constitutional theory, Lincoln's blockade of Southern ports was an oddity under international law — a nation blockading itself. With such an eye to subtlety, it is little wonder that Carwardine's penetrating and stimulating book, in an earlier edition, won the Lincoln Prize. James L. Swanson's 'Manhunt' may leave a lesser mark in Lincoln studies, but it is a vividly readable example of the you-are-there genre, whose early prototype was Jim Bishop's wildly popular 1955 book 'The Day Lincoln Was Shot.' The minutiae of John Wilkes Booth's hideous crime are all here, managed with 'CSI' immediacy. If you want to know the fine details of Booth's shot, including the laugh line in the Ford's Theatre comedy that muffled the pistol report and the path through the president's brain the bullet followed, this is your book. Swanson even gives us the texture and thickness of the hemp rope with which the alleged conspirators were hanged. Just as it begins to seem that this torrent of facts lacks a theme, Swanson, a Washington writer, provides one: that Booth, a gifted actor, had lost the capacity to distinguish drama from reality and viewed himself as the star of a heroic drama of vengeance, in the tradition of William Tell and the assassins of Julius Caesar. Swanson writes, with considerable felicity, that by the time Booth was trapped by a cavalry unit in the burning barn at the Garrett family farm, he was determined to make this 'his final and greatest performance, not just for the small audience of soldiers ... but also for history. He had already perpetrated the most flamboyant public murder in American history ... creating a new, dark art — performance assassination. Tonight, he would script his own end with a performance that equaled his triumph at Ford's Theatre.' Very possibly. Booth had been stung by the negative reviews of his lethal act even from a Maryland press he thought would be sympathetic. But if he saw himself as a performer, he was upstaged by a marksman even stranger than he: Thomas 'Boston' Corbett, a British immigrant who had changed his name 'to honor the city in which he found Christ' and had castrated himself to resist prostitutes. Corbett told his commander that 'Providence' had directed him to shoot Booth. The story gets even stranger. Years later, Corbett became assistant doorkeeper to the Kansas House of Representatives and held that body hostage in 1887 with a drawn pistol; he was admitted to a Topeka asylum, 'escaped in 1888, and then vanished from history.' Another minor figure in the drama, Maj. Henry Rathbone, who was sitting in the presidential box that fateful Good Friday, later murdered his wife, Clara, who as his fiancee had accompanied him to the theater; he ended his days in a German asylum. Swanson prudently resists the temptation to draw speculative inferences from these oddities. But these two books do complement one another: 'Manhunt' forms an omega to Carwardine's alpha. Lincoln's fierce resistance to slavery's extension made him president and martyr; the defeat of secession and the success of Emancipation enraged Booth, a violent Confederate sympathizer and negrophobe. That made Lincoln, not Booth, the great tragic hero of our history." Reviewed by Edwin M. Yoder Jr., Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"[A]s gripping a page-turner as anything you'll find on the mystery shelf....[Swanson] makes the characters in this great American tragedy actually seem human. Even Booth comes across as viscerally real... (Grade: A)" Entertainment Weekly
"[Mr. Swanson] has successfully streamlined the assassination's aftermath into an action-adventure version of these events. He makes Manhunt very accessible and infuses it with high drama." Janet Maslin, The New York Times
"Artfully arranging Booth's flight with the frantic federal dragnet that sought him, Swanson so tensely dramatizes the chase, capture, and killing of Booth that serious shelf-life...awaits his account of the assassination." Booklist
"[E]xtraordinary....This is a story as gripping as any tightly scripted crime drama, yet Swanson doesn't play fast and loose with historical facts." Boston Globe
"The narrative's most interesting character — Lincoln himself — is gone after the first act....On balance, though, Manhunt is a rattling good read. And it's a surprisingly suspenseful one." USA Today
"Mr. Swanson's moment-by-moment account of the 12-day chase is compulsively readable....Swanson reminds us that history is ultimately governed not by impersonal economic and social forces but by all the emotions that make up individual human beings..." Wall Street Journal
"Swanson's precise, minute-by-minute account is surprisingly suspenseful....With scrupulous research as the bedrock to an enthralling story, Manhunt will appeal to casual readers of popular history, as well as academic historians." Charlotte Observer
Combining magnificent historical research with a thrilling story, Manhunt describes the hourandndash;byandndash;hour details of the twelve days after Abraham Lincoln's assassination when various factions within the U.S. government andndash; and even some outside it andndash; hunted for the President's killer, John Wilkes Booth.
The pursuit of Lincoln's assassins is one of the greatest untold stories in American history. From April 14th to 26th, 1865, the hunt for John Wilkes Booth and his accomplices transfixed, thrilled, and horrified a nation of mourners who watched as this oneandndash;time thespian star led the Union army on a wild chase across the swamps of Maryland and into the forests of Virginia. Manhunt is the first book devoted entirely to these twelve, dramatic days between the murder of the president and the capture and death of his killer.
The hunt begins with Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton, an imperious and fearsome man whom Lincoln called, "Mars, God of War." From a makeshift command center set up just step from the president's death bed, Stanton took control of the government and the manhunt.
An hour by hour account of those twelve days told through the eyes of the hunted and the hunters, Manhunt makes clear why Booth refused to be taken alive and exposes which conspirators, now lost to history, escaped justice and lived to tell the tale.
About the Author
James L. Swanson, an attorney and Lincoln scholar, has held a number of government and think-tank posts in Washington, D.C. He has written about history, the Constitution, popular culture, and other subjects for a variety of publications, including the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, and American Heritage. He is the coauthor of Lincoln's Assassins: Their Trial and Execution. Swanson is a member of the advisory committee of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission. He lives in Washington, D.C.
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