I just finished Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell, and I am sorry to see it end. I can’t believe that I am saying that about a book about history. History was my most unfavorite subject. I dreaded it. Me, a solid, straight A student, only struggled in my history classes (well, that and geometry).
So, anyway the fact that I loved this book is amazing. Here is the description from Amazon:
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.
I have to acknowledge that I listened to this, and I’m not sure how much of a difference that made. It is read by Sarah Vowell herself, and her deadpan, sort of nasally voice, is perfect for it. I think that added a lot to the enjoyment, but that is offset by the fact that I don’t have a book to flip back through and reread the funny lines that I want to quote to people!
I highly recommend this if you are looking for a funny, entertaining look at history.
I give it 4 out of 5 stars.