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American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiraciesby Michael W. Kauffman
"American Brutus offers a vivid, chronological account of this epic political conspiracy — a carefully plotted assassination that was literally staged by one of the most adored leading men of his day. (Think Johnny Depp for the title role in the movie version of the jaw-dropping Booth epic that still begs to be made.) Coming nearly a century and a half before Osama's videos, the assassination was the first act of political terror as public spectacle in American history." Michael W. Kauffman, Salon.com (read the entire Salon.com review)
Synopses & Reviews
It is a tale as familiar as our history primers: A deranged actor, John Wilkes Booth, killed Abraham Lincoln in Ford's Theatre, escaped on foot, and eluded capture for twelve days until he met his fiery end in a Virginia tobacco barn. In the national hysteria that followed, eight others were arrested and tried; four of those were executed, four imprisoned. Therein lie all the classic elements of a great thriller. But the untold tale is even more fascinating.
Now, in American Brutus, Michael W. Kauffman, one of the foremost Lincoln assassination authorities, takes familiar history to a deeper level, offering an unprecedented, authoritative account of the Lincoln murder conspiracy. Working from a staggering array of archival sources and new research, Kauffman sheds new light on the background and motives of John Wilkes Booth, the mechanics of his plot to topple the Union government, and the trials and fates of the conspirators.
Piece by piece, Kauffman explains and corrects common misperceptions and analyzes the political motivation behind Booth's plan to unseat Lincoln, in whom the assassin saw a treacherous autocrat, "an American Caesar." In preparing his study, Kauffman spared no effort getting at the truth: He even lived in Booth's house, and re-created key parts of Booth's escape. Thanks to Kauffman's discoveries, readers will have a new understanding of this defining event in our nation's history, and they will come to see how public sentiment about Booth at the time of the assassination and ever since has made an accurate account of his actions and motives next to impossible — until now.
In nearly 140 years there has been an overwhelming body of literature on the Lincoln assassination, much of it incomplete and oftentimes contradictory. In American Brutus, Kauffman finally makes sense of an incident whose causes and effects reverberate to this day. Provocative, absorbing, utterly cogent, at times controversial, this will become the definitive text on a watershed event in American history.
"Kauffman, an independent Lincoln assassination scholar, offers a beautifully written, exhaustive and well-reasoned reassessment of John Wilkes Booth and the murder of America's 16th president. The story Kauffman tells, though highly familiar, is also byzantine enough to still capture our attention. More importantly, Kauffman puts a new spin on well-worn data, adding a riveting reinterpretation that paints Booth as a ruthless player of complex games: a darkly brilliant manipulator of people, not all of whom realized what they were a part of until after Lincoln lay dead. Booth reveled in creating false impressions and planting strategic misinformation. One example involves Dr. Samuel Mudd, who set Booth's fractured leg before learning of the assassination and then, frightened for his life, made the mistake of denying knowing the actor. Years later, Gen. David Hunter — ranking member of the military commission that tried and sentenced Mudd to prison — commented: 'The Court never believed that Dr. Mudd knew anything about Booth's designs. Booth made him a tool as he had done others.' Kauffman's Booth is, in the end, a crazed but skilled puppetmaster who, as part of his endgame, needed to make sure that most of his puppets joined him in martyrdom for the Confederate cause. 'Booth immortalized himself by staging one of history's greatest dramas,' Kauffman writes. 'In the process, he accomplished what every actor aspires to do: he made us all wonder where the play ended and reality began.' Photos not seen by PW. (On sale Nov. 2)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Whether or not it was essential for him to have followed Booth's path so closely, [Kauffman's] attachment to this material is palpable. And it yields a riveting, newly immediate view of a nation in turmoil." Janet Maslin, The New York Times
"[T]he reader will gasp at the abundance of villains and the extent of their crimes. History as page-turner: a fascinating inquest." Kirkus Reviews
"[I]lluminating....American Brutus offers a vivid, chronological account of this epic political conspiracy....[An] eye-opening portrayal of a country so savagely at odds with itself that political assassination...suddenly became a widely discussed option." David Talbot, Salon.com
"Kauffman tells his story with vigor and skill....American Brutus makes it clear why, of all the attempts on the lives of American presidents, the Booth conspiracy to murder Lincoln continues to fascinate us." Boston Globe
"[Kauffman's] most impressive accomplishment is not the computer-generated timeline he is able to construct (impressive though that most assuredly is) but his depiction and analysis of Booth himself." Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post Book World
"Kauffman relates a complex series of events clearly and engagingly....Kauffman has weighed the evidence thoughtfully and thoroughly and written a judicious overview of events long shrouded in mystery and myth." Providence Journal
"[T]he fullest and best day-by-day reconstruction of that fateful April time....A vivid and often compelling narrative..." Library Journal
"In this definitive reinvestigation of the Lincoln assassination, Michael Kauffman has at long last captured the real John Wilkes Booth. Writing with confidence and clarity, Kauffman masterfully cuts through the thicket of conflicting rumors, false stories, and wrong assumptions, that have corrupted many earlier studies. American Brutus is simply the most comprehensive and credible account ever published about the Lincoln assassination. By unmasking Booth's real motivation while meticulously stripping away a century of accumulated folklore, Kauffman unlocks the mystery of why Lincoln was killed." Gerald Posner, author of Case Closed and Why America Slept
"In this gripping, often surprising reexamination of America's most notorious crime, Michael W. Kauffman rescues the Lincoln assassination from the historical waxworks. Combining exhaustive research, computer technology, and a compulsively readable style, Kauffman clears away more than a century of misconceptions. This Booth is a greater actor, and a more cunning monster, than we ever imagined." Richard Norton Smith, executive director, Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum
One of the foremost Lincoln assassination authorities takes familiar history to a deeper level, offering an unprecedented, authoritative account of the Lincoln murder conspiracy.
About the Author
Michael W. Kauffman is a political historian and graduate of the University of Virginia who has studied the Lincoln assassination for more than thirty years. He has appeared on A&E, the History Channel, C-SPAN, and the Learning Channel, and was called to testify as an expert witness in the 1995 Booth exhumation hearings. He lives in southern Maryland.
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