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The Greatest Manhunt in American History

For 12 days after his brazen assassination of Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth was at large, and in Manhunt, historian James L. Swanson tells the vivid, fully documented tale of his escape and the wild, massive pursuit. Get a taste of the daily drama from this timeline of the desperate search.

April 14, 1865 Around noon, Booth learns that Lincoln is coming to Ford's Theatre that night. He has eight hours to prepare his plan.
10:15 pm: Booth shoots the president, leaps to the stage, and escapes on a waiting horse.
Secretary of War Edwin Stanton orders the manhunt to begin.
April 15 About 4:00 am: Booth seeks treatment for a broken leg at Dr. Samuel Mudd's farm near Beantown, Maryland. Cavalry patrol heads south toward Mudd farm.
Confederate operative Thomas Jones hides Booth in a remote pine thicket for five days, frustrating the manhunters.
April 19 Tens of thousands watch the procession to the U.S. Capitol, where President Lincoln lies in state. Wild rumors and stories of false sightings of Booth spread.
April 20 Stanton offers a $100,000 reward for the assassins, and threatens death to any citizen who helps them.
After hiding Booth in Maryland, Jones puts him in a rowboat on the Potomac River, bound for Virginia. More than a thousand manhunters are still searching in Maryland. In the dark, Booth rows the wrong way and first ends up back in Maryland.
April 20-24 Booth lands in the northern neck of Virginia, and Confederate agents and sympathizers guide him to Port Conway, Virginia.
April 24 Booth befriends three Confederate soldiers who help him cross the Rappahannock River to Port Royal and then guide him further southwest to the Garrett farm.
Union troops in Washington receive a report of a Booth sighting. They board a U.S. Navy tug and steam south, right past Booth's hideout at the Garrett farm.
April 25 The 16th New York Calvary, realizing their error, turns around and surrounds the Garrett farm after midnight that night.
April 26 When Booth refuses to surrender, troops set the barn on fire, and Boston Corbett shoots the assassin. Booth dies a few hours later, at sunrise.
April 26-27 Booth's body is brought back to Washington, where it is autopsied, photographed, and buried in a secret grave.

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.

Customer Reviews:

  • Book Club memberf
    We were planning an extended driving vacation so I went to the library to check out "books on tape"...this was one the librarian suggested. I'm so grateful she did!

    After hearing the book, I purchased copies for Christmas gifts, one for myself, and I also recommended this selection for our book club to read.

    Everyone that I've talked with remarked they did not want to put it down once the reading began. Wonderful book...really captures your interest and holds it through to the end!

    ...more info
  • A gem for Civil War enthusiasts
    This book is a real gem. My husband and I have always been interested in Civil War lore. This book is chocked full of interesting facts surrounding the assassination of President Lincoln. We borrowed the book initially but have purchased another copy because we wanted to keep this book as a permanent reference. Our high schooler benefitted immensely from this book for a history project. You won't be able to put this down....more info
  • Historic Novel
    Me read a book about American history ????- never...until now! I loved this book - While I was reading the captivating story about Booth, I kept trying to figure out why the writing was so impressive. I wish there were more books out there like Manhunt - taking a well known historical event and bringing it to life and such a vivid way. This book is definitely for those who shy away from history, but love a well written book with attention to details...more info
  • Historical Thriller
    This book is rich in historical content while also providing a thrilling plot for someone who is not interested in history. Swanson demonstrates great command of the subject while constructing the story in a way that makes it hard to put down the book. ...more info
  • a great read... i was there!!
    I have not read many books lately and have just started to get back to it. Manhunt was the latest book I read and it was AMAZING!! The vivid descriptions put you everywhere John W Booth and his cohorts are and makes for a fascinating depiction of history. ...more info
  • Flawed but informative
    This is an entertaining book, but definitely flawed. There is far too much literary license taken by Swanson. At times I feel like I'm reading a poorly written mystery novel. This is not a quality history text, but an entertaining read regarding the chase for Lincoln's assassin. I recommend this book for the casual Civil War or Lincoln buff, but this is not a credible history text....more info
  • this book deserves more than five stars!
    This bestselling nonfiction book came with outstanding professional reviews. There was no laying it aside for later, as I was unable to put it down. The author completely changed my opinion of John Wilkes Booth, a successful actor who had everything to lose and risked it all. If there were flaws in the writing I certainly never noticed any. This is an achievement I cannot criticize. In fact I almost wished I had a seatbelt. It is a rollicking good read. ...more info
  • Manhunt, by James L. Swansom
    Manhunt by James L. Swanson

    James L. Swanson skillfully guides the reader on a 12-day journey in what was one of the most tumultuous sagas in our history.
    When reading the book, Manhunt, the reader feels that they are living the history of not only Lincoln's assassination, but also Booth's escape and subsequent capture. Indeed history comes alive with each participant's actions, loyalties, feelings and fears....more info
  • Book group liked this one
    Very interesting book. Brings a lot to light that I didn't know. Well written and readable....more info
  • Well written, a quick read.
    As a person who's read quite a bit on Lincoln and his assination, I figured I should finally get around to this text. I've been telling people for years that Dr. Samuel Mudd's family lobbied for years to get Mudd's name cleared--that he was simply a physician treating a patient with a broken leg. A colleague of mine suggested that this book denies that. It does, indeed.

    I read a lot but am a slower reader than I'd like. So I like a book (1) that doesn't have microscopic print and (2) keeps me interested. This qualified on both counts. I don't mean it was large print, like a children's book. But it didn't have so much detail that I could maybe win a trivia contest but be none the wiser.

    In fact, one item that I liked most was that Thomas Jones apparently kept Booth and his accomplice, Davey Herold, in a pine thicket for something like four days and five nights. Jones was freed of any responsibility for harboring perhaps the most wanted man in the US for those 12 days, but told the truth some years later. (When he was selling a book admitting to that, he was apparently attacked by some Union veterans!)

    Among the things I liked too about the book was the admission by the author that Lincoln was not particularly popular at the time of his assination. Indeed, Booth was discouraged after the assasination that he'd created a martyr there there might not have been one.

    Another thing I liked about the structure of the book is that the author ended with a kind of "where are they now," or what happened to the actors in the "drama." That's where I learned of the Jones story, for example.

    What I didn't like about the book was the speculation the author did on what was going on in Booth's mind while he was in the Garret barn where he was eventually shot. I'm conscious of that ever since a good friend and former boss and I talked about a book years ago in which he accused I think it was Halberstram of doing that. "How could he know was was going on in [so-and-so]'s mind?" he asked. Of course he can guess, but then such speculation needed to be stated as such.

    I must confess too that I almost downgraded the review by one star too because of what I saw in the book's acknowledgements. You see, Swanson thanked is friends "at the Heritage Foundation." What's the matter with that? Well, Heritage is extremely ideological. (I know, for, among other reasons, I have a distant cousin who works there.) How would one have felt after reading such a book if the author had said, "Many thanks to all my buddies at the Communist Party." It might make you want to find another more credible book because that party tends to be ideological. Heritage may be the other side of the political spectrum but is no less ideological, so it made me wonder about the author's motives and objectivity. But, despite Heritage, I found the book worth reading and, yes, difficult to put down. So, over and above the Booth speculation, I recommend it. ...more info
  • Manhunt
    This book is spellbjnding. the author takes the reader on a wild ride through the backwoods and city of early Washington. The author describes in detail what was going through boothes mind when he snuffed out the life of one of America's greatest presidents. It is a must read....more info
  • Brilliant
    This page turner has all the exitement of the best of John Grisham, yet every word of it is true. The amount of knowledge this work provides not only about the Lincoln assassination, but also for the feel of life in Washington and in the South in 1865 makes this one of the best histirical accounts I have ever read. Booth's well staged murder was perhaps the first and most gruesome bit of "performance art" ever done, and his delusional plans of what would follow his act deteriorates into a
    cat and nouse chase through the outskirts of Washington that is so tightly written the book is a hard one to put down. It is a must read.
    If Amazon had an extra star I'd give it. ...more info
  • Brings history to life...
    I enjoy nonfiction books that read like novels, and James L. Swanson's Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer provides a dose of history in an enjoyable format.

    Manhunt didn't include much information about the assassination that I didn't already know. But I did learn quite a bit about the 12-day pursuit of John Wilkes Booth and the hunt for his conspirators, as well as some other assassination trivia. It was especially interesting in that my husband and I often travel this same path through Maryland and Virginia when driving south. We pass right by the historic marker near the Garrett house barn (where Booth was captured and killed), although we've never stopped to see the actual location.

    Swanson does a commendable job of bringing the complex Booth to life. The author describes him as "impossibly vain, preening, emotionally flamboyant, possessed of raw talent and splendid elan." Yet, this handsome and charismatic actor was willing to sacrifice everything for "his cause." After the assassination, he was stunned and enraged to discover that his acts not only met with outrage, but also, made Lincoln a martyr. I was surprised to learn that on April 16, 1865, CSA Lt. General R. S. Ewell sent Secretary of War Stanton a letter that was cosigned by 16 other Confederate generals. In the letter, Ewell wrote of their "unqualified abhorrence and indignation" at Lincoln's killing. He claimed that they were shocked by this appalling crime and that Southern men "are not assassins" nor their "allies."

    Manhunt has a good number of pictures, drawings, maps and photographs related to the assassination. He also includes an excellent Epilogue where he tells the "story after the story." Swanson also provides a poignant description of the events of that time. When Lincoln died at the Peterson house, a "crude, improvised coffin" was brought to transport his body back to the White House. The people in the street were upset. "The box looked like a shipping crate, not a proper coffin for a head of state. Lincoln would not have minded. He was always a man of simple tastes. This was the plain, roughly hewn coffin of a rail-splitter."

    After reading Manhunt, I intend on reading an earlier work that Swanson co-wrote called Lincoln's Assassins: Their Trail and Execution.
    ...more info
  • An Historic Thriller
    James Swanson's "Manhunt" reads like a thriller rather than history. From the very beginning-- as it describes Lincoln's second inauguration-- until the very end, where the author describes one of the relics of Booth's 12-day effort to avoid capture (his compass)where it remains in the museum in the reconstructed Ford's Theater, Swanson's engrossing novel commands the reader's attention and keeps him or her hungry for more. Despite the monstrosity of Booth's crime, one comes away from this book with a three-dimensional picture of this complex and in many ways tragic figure, who was delusional enough to believe to the bitter end that his assassination of our greatest President would ultimately be seen as an act of heroism in behalf of the oppressed people of the Confederacy and against the tyrannical northern oppressors represented by Lincoln. As an actor, Booth certainly had a flair for the dramatic, so that even during the commission of his heinous crime he cried out for all to hear, "Sic Semper Tyrannis" (thus always to tyrants) and "The South is avenged."

    Swanson also fleshes out the other conspirators, including Lewis Powell, who undertook the effort to assassinate William Seward, Lincoln's Secretary of State and his closest confidante; the hapless George Atzerodt (who failed to undertake his assignment to assassinate Vice-President Johnson); and the young David Herold, who remained with Booth from the assassination until Booth's death 12 days later. Along the way we meet a number of interesting characters, most notably Thomas Jones, a Confederate secret agent and river boatman who assisted Booth and Herold in their efforts to elude capture and provided them with the boat to get across the Potomac River to Virginia.

    This is a book that also teaches us that mob justice is most often not justice at all. Some of those who were hung in connection with the conspiracy were most likely treated unjustly by a nation thirsty for vengeance.

    In any event, this is a book well worth reading, and which is guaranteed to keep you up late at night.

    ...more info
  • A book you can't put down
    Just a wonderfully written book. It will keep your undivided attention from start to finish. It takes you from the preplanning stages to the death of John Wilkes Booth in a barn. You feel as if you are JWB's shadow.
    Highly recommended reading....more info
  • Manhunt: The 12-day Chase for Lincoln's Killer
    The Manhunt: 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer was well written to the point that I felt like I was apart of the whole horrific event. Because of the non-stop suspense and drama, it was extremely hard to put down. I look forward to any other Book written by James L. Swanson. Thanks for the Great Read....more info
  • Certainly the "best show" in writing on Lincoln's assassination
    Keep in mind that "Manhunt" is mostly written as a narrative story. The reader will be free of 50-caliber footnotes that grace just about every written piece on history topics. Those footnotes and those pieces are necessary and important, but "Manhunt" only makes the claim of being quite readable. This is why the book is interesting, and for the most part, hard to put down. If there were a category of "beach-book nonfiction," then this one should be at the top of the list.

    The reader all along will be asking herself, "how on earth can we know what individual people were thinking, doing, and saying to each other (and to themselves!) a century and a half ago?" The answer is, "we can't." The author does a splendid job of making these mental leaps for this very engaging book, knowing that the worldly reader (all of us, of course!) will suspend his belief that all the dialog, facial expressions, etc., actually happened exactly as described. We readers will also be well-sensitized to checking the story details as they tend to pop up in our lives, for the rest of our lives. This is truly an inspiring work in that respect.

    Exactly true or not, every person reading this will find some part of the Lincoln assassination story which they have not known before, perhaps about certain characters that show up in the story. As some reviewers say, sometimes there are too many, too quickly showing up. Fair enough. The tale proceeds well anyway. Get the book!
    ...more info
  • What a book...
    I bought this book for a teachers gift, he loves Lincoln and that whole period of our country's life. He said the book is one of the best he's ever read on the subject....more info
  • A page turner
    This is a very entertaining, gripping, and informative book. I really loved reading this book. This book reads like a thriller. It is very well written, and a true page turner. What makes this book fascinating is that the story is exactly as it happened. All the characters are real and were alive during the great manhunt of April 1865. Their words are authentic. All text appearing within quotation marks comes from original sources: letters, manuscripts, affidavits, trial transcripts, newspapers, government reports, pamphlets, books, memoirs, and other documents.

    Lincoln was the first American president to be assassinated. It was a big shock to the American people then, similar to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but according to the author, magnified fivefold. Catching Lincoln's killer was therefore a priority. After a 12 day chase, the killer, an actor by the name of John Wilkes Booth, was finally caught. Sustaining a gun wound to his neck, Booth soon died. Abraham Lincoln died at 22 minutes after 7 o'clock on April 15, 1865.

    The author tells the story of why Booth wanted Lincoln dead (he hated colored people and wanted them kept as slaves); how he killed him (a close range shot to the back of the head while Lincoln watched a play); how he escaped the theatre; and his attempt to cross the Hudson River, go south, and eventually into Mexico. Booth could have easily escaped if it wasn't for all the mistakes he did (he remained too long in one place; rowed towards the wrong direction; placed his trust in the wrong persons).

    The plan was to kill the Secretary of State (he was severely wounded) and the Vice President as well. It was really an attempt to paralyze the government, similar to the 2001 attacks that aimed to destroy the White house (the aircraft that fell in the fields of Pennsylvania was heading for the White House), and managed to destroy part of the Pentagon.

    The book is very well illustrated with authentic black and white pictures (they had cameras then). A map of Booth's escape route is also included.

    I learnt many things that I did not know:

    1. Lincoln did not die immediately. Though shot in the back of his head, he was resuscitated, though he never regained consciousness. Lincoln died at his home. Today visitors can visit the room where Lincoln died.

    2. I didn't know they had cameras at the time, and really enjoyed looking at the photographs included in the book.

    3. Booth was a famous actor, the Barrymores of the time. He was not a common criminal. His hatred of the colored people is what pushed him to kill Lincoln.

    4. The official story was that Booth was buried under the Hudson River, with enough weights attached to him to guarantee he would never surface. In reality, Booth was buried in a cemetery, and today visitors can visit his grave.

    I highly recommend reading this book!...more info
  • Not as good as I hoped it would be
    Prior to reading this book I had heard the rave reviews and how it had been placed on numerous Top Ten list. I guess my expectations were too high, because I was hoping for so much more. I thought it was going to be a sweeping, epic, and exciting telling of the chase for Lincoln's killer. Instead, it was merely... OK. Some parts were dull while others were pretty riveting. Too bad there weren't enough of those riveting parts....more info
  • Relive the Chase for Lincoln's Assassin
    James Swanson creates a moment by moment account of the chase for President Lincoln's assassin and his accomplices that is a tour de force. It is difficult to imagine a more compelling, thorough or historically accurate rendition of the period before and the 12 days after Booth's infamous crime. Swanson covers all the ground and answers all the questions, including the little details that history has largely forgotten, such as where Booth was initially interred following his execution and where he is buried today. This book is utterly fascinating and compelling. Through Swanson's captivating style, you can travel back in time and relive this historical event....more info
  • Harrowing "Manhunt"
    Most everyone knows that John Wilkes Booth assassinated Abraham Lincoln. But few know the broader plan, how history could have changed, how history indeed did change, the minute by minute saga of the planning of the crime and its twelve day aftermath - the Manhunt for Booth. This chronicle of those days is so harrowing, so page turning, you will give up sleep to finish it. Knowing the history we all know, I still read this story hoping the assassination attempt fails and if not, Booth would be caught before he left the Ford's Theatre. Alas, neither of those hopes were realized but that's how riveting and real this story is. I cannot recall reading a book as exciting or as informative. Take the James Swanson time machine back to 1865 and live there for twelve days. It is unforgettable....more info
  • Terrific
    Really well done. I felt like I was right there, on the run with Booth, and with the pursuers.
    Fantastic job by the author....more info
  • What They Don't Teach in History Class
    I just read this book while cruising the Mexican Riviera. This is a book that I couldn't (didn't want to) put down. I have always had a love of history especially American history but sadly so much is missing in the first 12 years of school. I never fully realized the extensiveness of the plot to kidnap or to assassinate President Lincoln until reading this book. Extremely well written by a author who has done his homework. This is highly recommended as there are many books as well as programs on television who have many inaccuracies. Read this if you want to know the truth about the roll that Dr. Mudd played. Where was Mr. Booth for that missing week?...more info
  • Riviting Reading
    Despite obviously knowing how this tragic event ends, this was one of the best books I've read in recent memory. This book provides many details about the planning, carrying out and aftermath of this plan which I'm sure not many people know. These are the things in my opinion that make this book as interesting as it was. I couldn't help but feel Booth's desperatiion as the authorities closed in on him. It's great reading and story telling of one of our country's most tragic events. ...more info
  • Great, in depth!
    This book really is as good as it says it is. This book really provides an in depth overview of the murder and the chase. It offers the view through those searching and JWB. It really is amazing to realize how Booth hid for so long when he was the most wanted man in the country. This is a very in depth, well written and interesting book. Highly reccommended to anyone interested in American history....more info
  • Manhunt
    I bought this book for two reasons, 1) my name is also James L. Swanson, and 2) I have always been an interested reader of Lincoln history. The book is a stinmulating chronology of the assisnation of Lincoln with more factual quotes and and detail than I have read in other books. It is easy to read, visually clear, and seems very complete. It is not a book you will want to put down. Thanks to the other James!...more info
  • this was a quick read, and a very good book
    A friend loaned me this book shortly after I had finished reading Doris Kearn Goodwin's book "Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln", thinking it would provide a little bit of closure (one of these books quotes someone as having said that Booth "robbed" us of the rest of the story of Lincoln's life, and Kearns book ends rather abruptly following the assasination).

    Like many of the other reviewers, I had only a cursory knowledge of Lincoln's presidency, and his assasination. These two books together really made that period of history come alive to me. I didn't mind that Swanson took quite a bit of literary license in his narrative. The only thing that I found a little bit creepy about this book is that, at times, it seemed to elevate the stature of Booth.

    A little bit repetive, with a fair amount of conjecture, but overall this was really a very good (and fast) read....more info
  • Suspenseful
    Even though we all know the story and how it turns out, this book was hard to put down. Great read...more info
  • Mmmmmm. John Wilkes Booth Brain Candy
    This book moves like a Michael Crichton novel. It goes down easy. Throughout, James L. Swanson is trying to make Booth likeable and tragic; I think he succeeds only in making him human.

    It's readable in under 2 days (those are "mom-of-school-aged-kids-on-spring-break" days, not "normal" adult days. grin). You get a lot of story and very vivid images from a quick read -- I think it's worth the investment of time.

    I was glad the photographs were scattered through the text, on the same pages they were described. The only exception to that is the maps -- they should have been on the flyleafs for easy reference. It was a pain to keep flicking back through the text.

    This book may not make you SMARTER, but it is engaging....more info
  • History can be interesting
    This book details an interesting few days that are often skimmed over in high school history books. While Lincoln is considered a hero today, it was eye opening to learn how he was regarded by southern loyalist. The author does an excellent job of laying out the details of Boothe's attempted escape and those that assisted. ...more info
  • it's satisfying and fascinates
    When true-life events are exciting, an author risks failing to live up to the excitement - potentially weighing down the story with slow, meandering narrative. Not so with James L. Swanson's "Manhunt". the writing is crisp and clear, the pace nimble. Swanson doesn't dwell or stagnate. when he breaks from the chase to provide extra information on a person or event, or even to offer a piece of trivia, his additions generally add color and richness to the story arc.

    Swanson does a good job presenting the "excitement of the chase", but there's also plenty to enjoy in his broader narrative, including character portraits of Booth's accomplices, and the perspectives of scores of minor players in the drama - of both Yankee and Rebel sympathies.

    I listened to Manhunt unabridged on audio CD narrated by Jonathan Davis. Davis does a fine job bringing vigorous life to the story. He's also successful conveying the main characters' emotions - especially Booth, who's revealed as extraordinarily passionate about his beliefs and motives, as misguided as history judged them to be....more info
  • A Captivating 19th C. Police Chase
    While all Americans know the name John Wilkes Booth, Swanson's page turner introduces the man and chronicles his adventures from the planning of Lincoln's assassination to his eventual secret burial.

    I couldn't put the book down as I craved to know what Booth and his companion would do next. It's rare that I can know how a story will end but be as captivated as if it's a complete mystery.

    Others have argued over trivial details but I thought the author did a wonderful job in really minimizing speculation and relying on actual accounts to tell the tale. It's very rare that we find Sawnson speculating on what the subject was thinking or doing.

    One criticism that I do have of his writing is his constant reminders that Booth was an actor. Each encounter is repeatedly referred to as a new stage, audience, and performance. Swanson could have been a little more creative in his writing.
    ...more info
  • Great Read
    Hard to put down. Informative and well constructed. Reads like a non-fiction thriller. Incredible depth of research but presented concisely. Great read....more info
  • Gripping thrill ride!
    I really enjoyed this book. As an Illinois girl, I grew up on Lincoln lore. I've been to the Tortugas prison where Mudd was imprisoned. I've visited the museum at Ford's theater. So I knew the facts of Lincoln's murder, but the drama of the manhunt was new to me. The author did a terrific job of creating suspense, even though we all know how the story will ultimately end. It was a very entertaining read. BUT it was the change in the author's POV that confused me. At times, Booth seemed like a vain, self-absorbed actor with grandiose dreams of restoring the Confederacy. At other time, Swanson give him traits of biblical proportions, even referring to the man who betrayed him as "Judas" at times. I wish the author has chosen a side and simply stuck to it.

    One fascinating moment of the book for me was when Booth realized that he was NOT being heralded as a hero in the press, instead derided as a villain. In this way he reminds me not of Lee Harvey Oswald, but instead as Jack Ruby, Oswald's assassin. Regardless of whatever Ruby's real motives in shooting Oswald were, he truly seemed to believe he would be hailed as a national hero, and, like Booth, was heartbroken when he wasn't....more info
  • Fascinating look at our history
    This reads like a novel, but is non fiction. The author did meticulous research to come up with such a detailed account of Lincoln's assassination and the conspiracy behind it. The hunt for his killer, and the people involved in concealing him from the chasers makes this a book that is hard to put down once started. I think that the most amazing thing about the book is Lincoln's nonchalance at being in public with a minimum of security during a time of great upheaval in the United States....more info
  • A Riveting Look At A 12-Day Journey That Changed America
    MANHUNT puts shows like 24 or CSI to shame. It's an extraordinarily well-researched, compulsively readable look at the day of and days following the Lincoln assassination. It reads like a great adventure story, yet it's an integral part of our collective national history.

    Most of us know the basics of the assassination: the well-known thespian, John Wilkes Booth, assassinated the president while he was enjoying "Our American Cousin" at the Ford Theater, plunging the newly-restored nation into mourning. What most DON'T know is that Booth pulled the plot together in a mere eight hours, drawing in co-conspirators that were supposed to kill Andrew Jackson, Secretary of State Seward, and possibly Ulysses Grant...and that the plot nearly succeeded.

    Most don't know the story of some of the major players who have been lost to history or relegated to minor roles -- Dr. Samuel Mudd, for example, or Mr. Jones who turned down a king's ransom in reward money because of misplaced "southern honor" and who hid Booth during the "lost days." We don't know about the heroism of Seward's young daughter, Fannie,, who tried to shield her father from an attack that almost proved fatal. Nor do we know about Boston Corbett, the man who ended up felling Booth and who castrated himself prior to that because of a fanatical Christianity.

    The book answered questions about Booth's motives, showing that he was obsessed with reading the newspapers even while in his pine forest hide-out and in terrible pain. His vanity knew no bounds; he wrote a harsh letter to a man who did not extend southern hospitality to him in the midst of the escape. This reader just shook her head with wonder.

    I'm sure that Lincoln scholars -- I am not one of them -- will probably find some quibbles. But, as someone who recently visited the new Lincoln Museum in Springfield, Illinois, I found this to be a fascinating epilogue for my visit. I recommend highly....more info
  • Engrossing....Engaging....
    A thrilling page-turner! Even though the ending is known to all you'll find this book keeps you more than a little interested and at the edge of your seat. I found myself having to put the book down to grieve for Lincoln's death, but at the same time unable to put the book down because it held me captive!...more info
  • Great page-turner
    "Manhunt" must surely be the definitive account of the Lincoln assassination and the hunt for the perpetrators. It reads like a novel but is also full of interesting information that stays with you long after finishing the book. Why couldn't history class have been like this? It comes pretty close to being there. Buy it, read it, reread it, give it as a gift. Highly recommended....more info
  • Extremely Educational
    This is a very well presented look at the conspiracy that resulted in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the manhunt that ensued. Much, of course, is common knowledge. The mechanics of the assassination itself are well known by anyone with any grounding in history. However, the deep background and the details of the twelve days between the murder and the capture of John Wilkes Booth are not generally known.

    Of particular interest to me were the actions of Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, who essentially took over the functions of Chief Executive that then Vice President Andrew Johnson was either inacapable or unwilling to perform.

    Swanson takes numerous available sources (many conflicting) and crafts a well presented and thoroughly researched narrative that flows smoothly and entertains the reader. All in all, a very worthwhile read for anyone with an interest in American History....more info
  • A journey with "the most beautiful black eyes in the world.."
    This is a very well researched project by Swanson in which he has taken eyewitness accounts, journals, newspaper articles and even John Wilkes Booth's own diary to construct an extremely detailed timeline of the 12 days America searched for Lincoln's assassin. Swanson should really be commended for preserving all these valuable bits of our history for every detail associated with this event should not be lost. He doesn't have to rely on guesswork or fillers to put us in the mind and mannners of Booth. We don't need to read yet another critical analysis or some aged scholar's dry commentary of the historical implications of this event.

    What could be better or more interesting than to feel as if we were sitting across from Booth at a bar or catch his seemingly trite comment to a passer-by as he makes his escape from Fords' Theatre or to feel the nervous tension as he crosses a river fleeing from his captors in the dead of night. We join with Booth in pine thickets, hiding out with his conspirators, knowing his injuries, his plans, what he thinks about himself, and what he reads in the papers following the assassination. We have it in Booth's own hand as proof. The reader gets to share in Booth's tension and uncertainty every time rides up to someone's farm in hopes of being hidden, fed, or treated for his injuries. Can we trust the people who assists him? Why would they help him? What does Booth do when he crosses the police or hears they're in the area. How good of a liar is he when questioned and what small miscalculations jeopardize his success?

    How utterly exhausting those 12 days must've been for Booth and his conspirators. His ego had him believe he would issue the most injurious blow to the North and become a martyr for his beloved Confederation. But his glory was to be short lived: hunted like an animal, too tense to sleep, hungry and injured, this self-professed, brilliant actor, meets his end in a burning barn surrounded by cavalry.

    This whole adventure has given us a very unique perspective and, thankfully, Swanson has laboriously preserved even the most trite of details. What a task it must've been for Swanson to physically trace Booth's route and compile hundreds of documents, eyewitness acounts, journals & photos, newspaper reports for each day Booth was on the run, and reports on the families who aided him. This was quite an investigation. Too bad more historical texts, especially in schools, aren't written this way. They clearly work better when the facts speak for themselves....more info
  • Useless, useless...
    I was impressed by James Swanson's book, Manhunt: the 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer, but unfortunately not favorably so. To begin, Swanson treats his subject in such light and casual detail that any serious student of history or anyone with an academic interest in Lincoln's assassination would be poorly served to waste time with this book. Swanson's intended audience is strictly the retail public.

    Swanson begins his book with "a note to the reader" in which he makes the claim, "This story is true" and that all the words in quotation marks are taken from original sources. A careful reading of the text exposes this bold claim as a dubious piece of obfuscation. For example, on page 29 Swanson quotes the text of a letter given by John Wilkes Booth to an actor friend John Matthews (the text of the letter appears in italics). However, later in the text (pages 148-149) Swanson relates how Matthews panics after the assassination and he burns the letter from Booth. In the notes Swanson admits that the letter he quotes was not the original (since it was destroyed) but rather a recreation based on Matthew's recollection and based in part on the manifesto in Booth's diary. I suppose one might argue that since the letter appears in italics and not within quotes, it is subject to a greater degree of license, but that logic really falls flat in this reviewer's estimation. Swanson ruins his credibility as a writer by failing to make clear in the text that this letter is not an original but rather a recreation. Furthermore, there is no conceivable reason for glossing over this important detail except to make the story somehow more dramatic. Swanson should take note that this story does not need his added drama.

    There are several uses of literary devices that range from inappropriate to downright offensive. Swanson has the lamentable habit of attributing to characters in his story motives that he cannot possibly substantiate. Consider the contrasting motives of women attending the deaths of Lincoln and Booth respectively. On page 84 actress Laura Keene is described as a brazen opportunist who ruthlessly insinuates her way into the presidential box for the sole reason of achieving some kind of fame for being a part of history. In all due fairness, no one could really speculate on what Laura Keene's motives were except Miss Keene herself. The book's end notes do not indicate Laura Keene ever claimed that she was a self serving opportunist, and it is unlikely that she would have even if it were the truth. It appears that for whatever reason, Swanson does not like Laura Keene and has decided to portray her in a pejorative light. On the other hand, Lucinda Holloway who ministered to the mortally wounded Booth on the porch of the Garrett farm receives favorable treatment. When she procures a lock of hair from the corpse of the murderer, Swanson denies that she is "craven relic hunter who lusted morbidly, like so many others, for bloody souvenirs of the great crime". One might ask why she is not to be considered a morbid relic hunter. Instead, Swanson portrays Lucinda Holloway as a tragic and romantic heroine, giving comfort to the misguided assassin in his last moments. Swanson seems perfectly comfortable with his portrayal of Holloway as a romantic heroine even when in the next paragraph she interferes with the investigation by stealing the dead actor's field glasses. It appears that in Swanson's estimation, bringing a pitcher of water to the side of an assassinated president is opportunistic, but stealing property from a dead murderer and tampering with evidence is a romantic adventure. This reviewer considers that the author has no factual basis upon which to base these characterizations, and that furthermore it represents a distorted view of moral values.

    And speaking of distorted moral values, this reviewer was disturbed by Swanson's obvious and inappropriate infatuated sympathy with the murderer John Wilkes Booth. On several occasions, Swanson draws parallels between John Wilkes Booth and Jesus Christ. For example, he repeatedly refers to Willie Jett as a "Judas". Also, on page 336 when Booth is shot and captured, David Herold attempts to maintain Booth's alias by insisting his name is Boyd and Swanson characterizes the ruse as "In captivity, the assassin's disciple denied him thrice". A few pages later on 341 the wounded Booth is on the porch of the Garrett house and is thirsty. Swanson writes, "As strangers at Golgotha did for Christ on Good Friday's cross, Lucinda answered his plea..." In this reviewer's humble estimation, Booth as a murderer has little in common with Jesus who was not a murderer, and drawing parallels between the two is patently absurd and even offensive. This is not literary license; it is more like literary licentiousness.

    While reading this book I made notes of a number of other shortcomings in the text, such as on page 320 where Swanson describes Booth holding his pistols in his hands and then contradicts himself a paragraph later by writing that he is reaching for his holstered pistols. Or in the epilogue where Swanson suggests that Booth has been forgiven for murdering the most popular president in U.S. history. Suffice it to say that a complete catalog of all the lamentable characteristics of this book is not included in this review.

    The most appropriate way to describe this book is to quote Booth's last words: "useless, useless". Swanson's preference for florid melodrama and casual disregard for accuracy in detail ruins the book for any serious student of Lincoln history. And his obvious sympathy for the murderer rather than his victims is likely to leave an unfavorable impression for the casual reader seeking an introduction to the subject. There are already two excellent books on the subject that should appeal to all audiences, serious academic and casually curious. These are Blood on the Moon by Edwin Steers, and American Brutus by Michael Kaufmann. To say that Manhunt is superfluous under the circumstances would be too much of a kindness.
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  • Truthful and fascinating tale
    Mr. Swanson did an excellent job in telling the story of the 12-day chase of John Wilkes Booth. His account read like an action thriller, while being substantiated with true facts. I like how Mr. Swanson intelligently combined numerous sources and interestly told the story with first hand accounts. I literally could not put this book down. It's the book I've been waiting for....more info
  • Manhunt reads as well as any novel
    "Manhunt" is as good as it gets for non-fiction. The book is obviously about the assasination of Abraham Lincoln and the ensuing chase for his killers. You will think you are reading a novel. The "characters" are described just like you were reading a mystery novel. You will learn that there were many tragic figures, including John Wilkes Booth, in "Manhunt". Booth's ending at Garrett's farm was so well written that I could not put the book down.

    I recommend this book to history and non-history fans alike. ...more info
  • Fact or Fiction?
    Based on the hundreds of glowing reviews on this website, I appear to be in a tiny minority regarding my opinion. Please read this review as a counterpoint to some of MANHUNT's praise.

    MANHUNT has its merits. I'll point you to many other well-written reviews for evidence. Here's my beef: The author seems to mix fact with imaginative embellishment (read: fiction) for hightened drama. When setting most scenes, Mr. Swanson describes particular sensory conditions with great specificity like smells, lighting conditions, facial expressions, and most impresively, Booth's emotions.

    My question is this: Where would he get this information from such a wide range of sources 140 years later? Eyewitness reports? I doubt it, especially when it comes to "enhancements" of Booth's motivations, emotions, and thought processes. (The man was killed before he had time to jot down a memoir...) Therefore, very large portions of this text must have come out of the author's imagination.

    All this does "spice up" what's turned into a plausable historical tale. But what's real? What's not? It's impossible to know. Not that I would only endorse dry historic chronicles. This story would be intriguing and exciting enough without the author's efforts to "take it up a notch".

    I couldn't take it seriously, and therefore couldn't finish it. Grade: D....more info
  • Superb Narrative Non-Fiction
    It's been years since I read a book of this length through in a single weekend. Swanson's account of the most famous manhunt in history, however, is hard to put down. I found myself hardly able to read it through fast enough, eagerly awaiting every page. Truth is indeed stranger than fiction. It would be hard, nay impossible, to invent such a fantastical tale as the 12 days of events that followed J. Wilkes Booth after his assassination of Lincoln. Swanson's wonderfully flowing, spectral, adjectival descriptions of the hardships that Booth and his accomplice(s) faced almost make one sympathetic to his plight (until, of course, one reflects on the heinousness of his crime and/or gets a sampling of his morally gangrenous racist rants and quixotic, pathetic screeds about his narrow socio-political vision for the United States). Swanson's excellent prose is supported by an obvious breadth of research and attention to detail. One last feature that makes the book highly enjoyable is the wealth of supplemental material at the end. For good summer reading, one cannot do better.

    ...more info