Thursday, May 17, 2012

Killing Lincoln - Bill O' Reilly & Martin Dugard (Audio)

Mankind has always had a fascination with assassinations and the stories that surround them.  It is fun (and possibly a little goofy) to imagine conspiracy theories, imagining that it wasn't just one wacko who decided to create a watershed moment, but an evil underground of well-planned terrorists.  

The fueling of my interests were inspired mostly from listening to my beloved Sarah Vowell ramble about history's most famous assassinations in her audio book "Assassination Vacation". You've not experienced history until you have seen it through Sarah's eyes.

I had no real interest in listening to "Killing Lincoln".  It is an understatement to say that I'm not the biggest fan of Bill O' Reilly (a TV host and political commentator on Fox News).  I find him to be a bit of a blowhard.  Also, there was a tremendous amount of blowback upon the release of this book.  Apparently the historians found many inaccuracies in his account of the events leading up to and following President Lincoln's assassination.  In fact, the Ford Theater museum refuses to sell the book for that reason.  I just wasn't sure I could even take the work seriously.  But a colleague of my husband's loaned us the audio, and it wasn't a long one, so I decided to live a little.

Synopsis:  Bill O'Reilly, a former high school history teacher, and Martin Dugard, a historian, have constructed a retelling of the assassination of President Lincoln, as well as the political climate, the backgrounds and personalities of all the players, and the continuing controversies surrounding it.  Instead of reading like a textbook, however, it has been sauced up to entertain like a thriller.

A certain amount of poetic license is taken to inject emotion and impressions into the likes of Grant, Lee, Booth, Lafayette Baker (the New York detective who led the manhunt), and a whole cast of contributors to the drama.  O'Reilly also muses about possible involvement of Lincoln's Secretary of War Stanton to take out the President.  

Laden with facts, short on humor, and rich on action, this is a history lesson come alive for the casual student of all things Lincoln.  

My thoughts:  There is one thing that I've learned from listening to authors who write about fact...the historians are out there, just waiting for you to screw up.  It doesn't matter if you are talking about Lincoln, automatic weapons, or the smell of the air on a hot Texas summer in 1963, you are going to get nailed.  Being O' Reilly just makes it worse.  I've browsed through some of his "offenses", according to these historians, and while some were easily preventable, none really impact the overall goal of this book.  

And that is to entertain.  On that note, the authors succeed.  For the most part.

The first half of the book IS dragged down with details about the Civil War.  While this is all about how our country was formed, and it was the cause of Lincoln being such a loved and hated fellow, I was bored stiff.  This was not what I came for.

Once things get warmed up with Booth's grandiose plans, the minute-by-minute tension-filled account of Lincoln's shooting, the attempt to save him, Booth's escape, manhunt and dramatic showdown, it is pretty exciting.  It does read like a thriller novel.

The writing itself isn't going to win any awards.  It is pedestrian and clunky and lacks all finesse.  Not that I expected any, but I'm just saying.

So bottom line, if you keep your expectations in check and read/listen purely for entertainment value, its not a bad way to spend 8 hours of your time.

A few words about the audio production:  Appropriately, I think, O' Reilly narrates this audio book.  He has a commanding voice - the voice of a TV commentator.  He is passionate about his topic, and that translates through to this listening experience.  

3.5 out of 5 stars 



Beth F said...

You've pretty much confirmed my initial thoughts -- I have no desire to read or listen to this. Thanks for doing it for me. I don't think I could stand to listen to Bill O'Reilly's voice in my head. Ugh.

Literate Housewife said...

Very interesting how minor his offenses are. What I don't understand is why they do it. To my mind, it more often helps his cause than hurts it. The people who will cling to those points weren't going to read the book to begin with. It fires up the rest to buy the book out of spite.

I'm glad you found this book worthwhile. Like Beth Fish Reads, I'm glad you read it for me.

bermudaonion said...

Kudos to you for listening to this one. I am not a fan of O'Reilly's and just don't think I could take this book.

Jenny said...

I wonder if it would bother me with the wrong facts..I mean I wouldn't know it but then I'd think I was all knowledgeable when I wasn't.

Zibilee said...

I also tend to dislike O'Reilly, and would be really bored by the Civil War aspects, so I am on the fence about this one. I do want to read a book on this subject, because I am sadly unknowledgeable on the facts, but I'm not sure this is the one for me. I do give you props for sticking with this one!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

I love a good Lincoln book. Recently I thought April 1865 was a great nonfiction Civil War book.

Kathleen said...

My favorite one about Lincoln is the one that Gore Vidal wrote many moons ago. My mom read this one recently and still has it on her Kindle. I might have to borrow it and give it a go.

Heidenkind said...

Somehow I can totally picture Bill O'Reilly as a high school history teacher.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I don't consider his offenses minor. first of all, it is so important, for a history writer, to be responsible and to do fact-checking. and second, even his "inferences" (like about stanton), while technically not incorrect, are misleading at worst and imcomplete at best. I think such works as these do an enormous disserve to history, and there is a reason historians are up in arms about it, not just being opposed to bill o'reilly politically or something. (sorry I'm on a weird computer)

Jenners said...

It seems like most of Fox News … sensationalistic and sloppy. : )

Julie P. said...

Hmmm. I have this on audio too. Haven't gotten around to listening to it yet and not entirely sure I'm anxious to get to it.