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Assassination Vacationby Sarah Vowell
Leave it to Sarah Vowell to roam across America in search of the motivations and culture of political murder. Obsessive, edifying, and, of course, witty, Assassination Vacation is unlike any other historical tourism or travel writing book you'll ever read.
Synopses & Reviews
Sarah Vowell exposes the glorious conundrums of American history and culture with wit, probity, and an irreverent sense of humor. With Assassination Vacation, she takes us on a road trip like no other — a journey to the pit stops of American political murder and through the myriad ways they have been used for fun and profit, for political and cultural advantage.
From Buffalo to Alaska, Washington to the Dry Tortugas, Vowell visits locations immortalized and influenced by the spilling of politically important blood, reporting as she goes with her trademark blend of wisecracking humor, remarkable honesty, and thought-provoking criticism. We learn about the jinx that was Robert Todd Lincoln (present at the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley) and witness the politicking that went into the making of the Lincoln Memorial. The resulting narrative is much more than an entertaining and informative travelogue — it is the disturbing and fascinating story of how American death has been manipulated by popular culture, including literature, architecture, sculpture, and — the author's favorite — historical tourism. Though the themes of loss and violence are explored and we make detours to see how the Republican Party became the Republican Party, there are all kinds of lighter diversions along the way into the lives of the three presidents and their assassins, including mummies, show tunes, mean-spirited totem poles, and a nineteenth-century biblical sex cult.
"What do you get when a woman who's obsessed with death and U.S. history goes on vacation? This wacky, weirdly enthralling exploration of the first three presidential assassinations. Vowell (The Partly Cloudy Patriot), a contributor to NPR's This American Life and the voice of teenage superhero Violet Parr in The Incredibles, takes readers on a pilgrimage of sorts to the sites and monuments that pay homage to Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley, visiting everything from grave sites and simple plaques (like the one in Buffalo that marks the place where McKinley was shot) to places like the National Museum of Health and Medicine, where fragments of Lincoln's skull are on display. An expert tour guide, Vowell brings into sharp focus not only the figures involved in the assassinations, but the social and political circumstances that led to each — and she does so in the witty, sometimes irreverent manner that her fans have come to expect. Thus, readers learn not only about how Garfield found himself caught between the Stalwarts and the Half-Breeds, bitterly divided factions of the Republican party, but how his assassin, Charles Guiteau, a supporter of the Stalwarts and an occasional member of the Oneida Community, "was the one guy in a free love commune who could not get laid." Vowell also draws frequent connections between past events and the present, noting similarities between McKinley's preemptive war against Cuba and the Philippines and the current war in Iraq. This is history at its most morbid and most fascinating and, fortunately, one needn't share Vowell's interest in the macabre to thoroughly enjoy this unusual tour." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Any writer who can put James A. Garfield and Lou Reed in the same sentence leaves me in slack-jawed awe. But a lot of Assassination Vacation is like that. History is so often thought of as the province of the ponderously academic that it's a treat when an amateur — in the oldest and best sense of the word: a person who engages in something for the love of it — reminds us that it's an essential part of who we are." Charles Matthews, San Jose Mercury News
"Vowell could make a trip to the DMV interesting....Part travelogue, part history text and part memoir, Assassination Vacation is more fun than it has any right to be — a bizarre road trip into some of the most searing moments of the nation's past with one of our most amusing storytellers at the wheel." Stephen Kiehl, Baltimore Sun
"Cutting through cant with a satirical scalpel, [Vowell] is the history teacher we all wanted in school: whip-smart, hilariously self-deprecating and gifted with the power to make the invisible appear vividly before our eyes." Ariel Gonzalez, Miami Herald
"Museums and tourist spots often seem like dead, airless places, as flat and static as postcards, but Vowell makes you realize that they, and history itself, is a lot more dynamic than that." Greg Beato, San Francisco Chronicle
"A learned, engagingly discursive, funny, sometimes even jolly ramble....Vowell makes an excellent traveling companion, what with her rare combination of erudition and cheek." Bruce Handy, The New York Times Book Review
"The book is a hoot — entertaining, bemused, even educational....You will annoy your spouse by wanting to read the best parts out loud....The thoughtful and thought-provoking musings of a genuine patriot ? one who loves her country even if its policies disappoint her." Adam Woog, Seattle Times
From Buffalo to Alaska, Washington to Key West, cultural critic and radio commentator Vowell visits locations immortalized and influenced by assassination, reporting as she goes with her trademark blend of wisecracking humor, remarkable honesty, and thought-provoking criticism.
About the Author
Sarah Vowell is a contributing editor for public radio's This American Life and has written for Time, Esquire, GQ, Spin, Salon, McSweeneys, The Village Voice, and the Los Angeles Times. She is the author of Radio On, Take the Cannoli, and The Partly Cloudy Patriot. She lives in New York City.
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