Anne R from Maryland, January 18, 2012 (view all comments by Anne R from Maryland)
Who'd think you could write such a delightful book on such a grim subject? Sarah Vowell has always been fascinated (she would say "obsessed") with the assassinations of American presidents, so she set off on a pilgrimage to the places where these killings have occurred, as well as to the museums and memorials associated with them. From the mountain that Teddy Roosevelt was climbing when he became president (due to Leon Czolgosz murdering William McKinley) to the offshore prison in which some of the Lincoln conspirators were kept, she tries to get a feel for what the experience was like for all those involved. What makes the book so charming is Vowell's style. By turns wry, witty, tender, and thoughtful, she is the kind of companion who would make any journey a pleasure. (I do wish, though, that she had explained why she omitted the Kennedy assassination from her trip.)
frenchyberne, January 1, 2012 (view all comments by frenchyberne)
I love Sarah Vowell's combination of interesting history and wry humor! She brings all historical figures to life; Puritans, Pilgrims and Missionaries. I've been on a Vowell kick and have loved The Wordy Shipmates, Unfamiliar Fishes and this hysterical tour of America's political assassins, Assassination Vacation.
reader in sunnyvale, October 11, 2011 (view all comments by reader in sunnyvale)
I read this book on a recent business trip. Her easy, chatty style made this the perfect ready for airports and hotel rooms - I could put it down for awhile and then step right back into it. The book covers what could be a very somber and depressing topic in a light,easy to read manner. The author takes a different point of view and we follow the actions of the perpetrators as opposed to the victims. The book also contains many obscure pieces of trivia about the different assassinations - I'm a fan of trivia and so I enjoyed learning these tidbits.
wurdnurd, February 18, 2010 (view all comments by wurdnurd)
If a history textbook in class is supposed to read like a tree, taking you through history one branch at a time, then reading Sarah Vowell is kind of like being thrown into the middle of a kudzu plant. Which isn't a bad thing, really, if you enjoy wild riffs on politics (past, current and future), religious sects (and religious sex), ceramics, mall parking lots, hiking trips, her nephew Owen (who, btw, sounds like the coolest toddler ever, tantrums notwithstanding) and other minute details of daily life. More than anything, I'm amazed that this girl is able to rope so many people into joining her (and they drive, no less) on her random backwoods tours to dirt roads in the middle of nowhere. I can barely get a fellow traveler to join me to the bar down the street, let alone another state to see the barren field where John Wilkes Booth got drunk during his flight from justice (well, the building was there, once upon a time). Sarah's reflections on past presidents and their relationships to the less than wholesome side of politics (as in, they were defiant, which didn't help keep them alive) and parallel to a certain recent administration are a vivid reminder why presidents only get to serve in four-year terms.
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Margaret PLATIS, January 1, 2010 (view all comments by Margaret PLATIS)
I've not only read the print version and listened to the audiobook multiple times, I even planned a vacation around this book! Sarah Vowell's unique voice and viewpoint have helped me survive the so-far grim 21st century.
Simon & Schuster -
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.
"Publishers Weekly Review"
by Publishers Weekly,
"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.)
by Charles Matthews, San Jose Mercury News,
"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."
by Stephen Kiehl, Baltimore Sun,
"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."
by Ariel Gonzalez, Miami Herald,
"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."
by Greg Beato, San Francisco Chronicle,
"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."
by Bruce Handy, The New York Times Book Review,
"A learned, engagingly discursive, funny, sometimes even jolly ramble....Vowell makes an excellent traveling companion, what with her rare combination of erudition and cheek."
by Adam Woog, Seattle Times,
"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."
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.
Powell's City of Books is an independent bookstore in Portland, Oregon, that fills a whole city block with more than a million new, used, and out of print books. Shop those shelves — plus literally millions more books, DVDs, and eBooks — here at Powells.com.