Saturday, November 15, 2008

Book Review #10: Lincoln Murder Conspiracies by William Hanchett

There have been hundreds of books written about Lincoln's assassination. The Lincoln Murder Conspiracies by William Hanchett is one of the better additions to the Lincoln assassination library. The goal of his book is to explore the many different murder plots that could have brought an end to our 16th President's life. Did Booth act alone? Was Booth a pawn in a murder conspiracy? Was the Confederate government involved? Did Jeff Davis plot to murder Lincoln?

Hanchett does a good job exploring each of these by not only spending time on each question but he also explores every major work on the Lincoln murder from 1865-1982. He explores how Booth is portrayed by different authors and how Edwin Stanton has been falsely vilified as a Lincoln conspirator. The book is a bit dated (1983) but still holds its own and is highly recommended to anyone interest in the Lincoln assassination. Ironically, the book is only the second Lincoln assassination book written by a professional historian. Since that time the assassination has recieved plenty of attention by historians. Recently, Edward Steers and Michael Kaufman have written two books that are the "bibles" of the Lincoln assassination but Hanchett's book still holds its own after 25 years.

Dr. William Hanchett's closing sentences in The Lincoln Murder Conspiracies are as follows: "Lincoln would not have enjoyed the extravagant and pseudoreligious praise being offered in his name by so many Americans. Possibly he would have been reminded of some anecdote by which to deflate the absurdities of such exaggerations. But one suspects that if he could learn of the slush written about the suggested involvement of his secretary of war in his own death he would simply become angry." An interesting assessment.

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