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Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell

Assassination Vacation (original 2005; edition 2006)

by Sarah Vowell

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Title:Assassination Vacation
Authors:Sarah Vowell
Info:Simon & Schuster (2006), Paperback, 258 pages
Collections:Your library

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Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell (2005)


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What do you get if you mix American history, breeziness, humor, sarcasm, and sassiness together? If you’re lucky, you may discover Sarah Vowell’s ASSASSINATION VACATION.
After watching Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins, a musical about the men who killed Presidents Abraham Lincoln, John Garfield, and William McKinley, Sarah Vowell took off to learn more about the men and the victims. She traveled the US to the locations of the murders, the burial sites, and anything else she could find out about the perpetrators.
Along the way, she learned about some similarities and differences among the three events. She wrote: “It’s one of the perks of assassination. In death, you get upgraded into a saint no matter how much people hated you in life.”
“I am only slightly less astonished by the egotism of the assassins, the inflated self-esteem it requires to kill a president, than I am astonished by the men who run for president. These are the people who have the gall to believe they can fix us–us and our deficit, our fossil fuels, our racism, poverty, our potholes and public schools.”
She writes about Dr. Samuel Mudd who treated Booth and was later called a conspirator. Was he innocent or guilty?
A Missouri state senator complimented a Southern Magazine for setting the record straight and defending Confederate leaders. That man, John Ashcroft, later became the U.S. Attorney General.
Charles J. Guiteau would later claim he was not responsible for Garfield’s death; Garfield’s doctors were. Technically, he was right.
She elaborates on some strange coincidences. Among them: Robert Todd Lincoln was closely associated with all three events. (In German, todd means death.) Booth was physically close to Lincoln on several occasions. He was even on the podium behind him when he delivered his second inaugural address.
“When I told a friend I was writing about the McKinley administration, he...asked” why anyone would want to read about that?” “Oh, I don’t know...Maybe because we seem to be reliving it.” She continues to prove that those who do not remember history are condemned to relive it: Samuel Tilden received more popular votes than Rutherford B. Hayes. In January 1877, the Republicans on the electoral commission “persuaded the Democrats to ‘elect’ Hayes by agreeing to end reconstruction. (Hard to believe that the candidate who lost the popular vote could actually become the president of the United States. Luckily, that kind of travesty never happened again.)”
More turmoil erupted during the 1880 election when U.S. Grant was seeking a third term. “I’ll admit I rolled my eyes at the ideological hairsplitting, wondering how a group of people who more or less agreed with one another abut most issues could summon forth such stark animosity. Thankfully, we Americans have evolved, our hearts made larger, our minds more open, welcoming the negligible differences among our fellows with compassion and respect.”
Among her tidbits of information was “Slavery...wasn’t a European import but native to American shores.” The north was also involved as it sought to get molasses and rum.
“Maryland, My Maryland” was written in 1861 but was not the official state song until 1939. It includes lines including “sic semper!”, a reference to the state’s motto, “Sic semper tyrannis” the words hollered by John Wilkes Booth, calls Lincoln a despot, and refers to the North as “scum.” When he bombed the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, Timothy McVeigh wore a T-shirt with a picture of Lincoln on the front as well as the words, “Sic semper tyrannis.” The shirt instantly became a big seller.
On June 9, 1863, “Just as the pallbearers were carrying [Edwin Booth’s] coffin out the door in New York, in Washington, three floors of Ford’s Theater collapsed...It had been turned into a government office building after the Lincoln assassination. Twenty-two federal employees died.
At the time Garfield ran for President, the best paid government job? New York Custom House collectors. “The Custom House collected two-thirds of the federal government’s revenue.”
The employees, especially the director, were free to siphon off their share first.
“The sad thing about Garfield’s eleven volumes of Sumner’s Works”is that it’s a fifteen-volume set.”
McKinley felt the best thing the US could do for the Filipinos was to “educate, uplift, and Christianize them.” He ignored the fact that most were already Christian because of the Spanish missionaries who arrived in 1565 to convert them to Catholicism.
What really caused the explosion on the U.S. battleship, the Maine which lead to the Spanish-American War?
Vowell spent time talking with tour guides and was able to learn a lot more about her subjects than that given in the typical tour. She did this not by private interviews but by asking questions during the tours.
ASSASSINATION VACATION was a delightful, informative history lesson. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in history, particularly the presidential assassinations, who doesn’t want to wade through a lot of boring, fleshless words. For those who aren’t history buffs, you’ll probably enjoy it as well for its writing style and presentation of information you didn’t think you’d care about. ( )
  Judiex | Jul 23, 2015 |
Interesting and funny which is hard to do when you are covering assassinations.... ( )
  Nero56 | Jul 19, 2015 |
If you like quirky humor and little known historical tidbits and if the idea of visiting grave sites, memorial plaques and house museums doesn't bore you witless, this is a book for you. Sarah Vowell takes us on a journey through the assassinations of Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley and we emerge better informed about American history and with a new perspective on the America of today. I listened to an audio performance in which Vowell's talented friends such as Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert play the roles of historical figures. Highly entertaining and enjoyable. ( )
  rglossne | Jun 3, 2015 |
I found this quite hard to follow, partially due to my complete ignorance of American history and partially because the book is written in a fairly 'stream of consciousness' style. ( )
  cazfrancis | Mar 20, 2015 |
I am about two thirds of my way through this one. Borrowed this book from a friend that highly recommended it as something that he thought I would enjoy. My initial impression of the author and her writing style is she is an impudent, erudite, febrile poster child of the liberal gum chewing American teenager. She bounces all over the place in her stream of conscience style narrative and frequently throws out random trivia that has nothing to do with the subject at hand. I think she would be a hoot to travel with her random facts and very different view point.
She does point out she gave up Christianity and religion and in its place she has adopted American patriotism.
She does show she lacks some understanding of the differences between how culture and society in past times differed dramatically from the present. That takes a lot of immersive study to get a hold of so I don’t really hold that against her a great deal but some of her conclusions about people might have been different had she had a fuller understanding of their times. It is so tempting though to judge the past through our present mores and standards because that is what we are so used to doing.

This was more entertainment than history though I must admit the last half was pretty interesting as she talked about several people and incidents I was not familiar with.
( )
  Chris_El | Mar 19, 2015 |
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» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Sarah Vowellprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dzama, MarcelIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Levinthal, DavidCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Olender, JeanetteDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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In the Middle Ages, relics spawned a continentwide craze. Devotees packed their bags and streamed out of towns and villages, thronging the pilgrimage trails. For most, a journey to see the relic of St. Thomas or St. James offered the only valid excuse for leaving home. -Anneli Rufu Magnificent Corpses
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One night last summer, all the killers in my head assembled on a stage in Massachusetts to sing show tunes.
Going to Ford's Theatre to watch the play is like going to Hooters for the food.
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Please do not combine the abridged audiobook of Sarah Vowell's Assassination Vacation with the unabridged full text of that work. Thank you.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 074326004X, Paperback)

Sarah Vowell exposes the glorious conundrums of American history and culture with wit, probity, and an irreverent sense of humor. With Assassination Vacation, she takes us on a road trip like no other -- a journey to the pit stops of American political murder and through the myriad ways they have been used for fun and profit, for political and cultural advantage.

From Buffalo to Alaska, Washington to the Dry Tortugas, Vowell visits locations immortalized and influenced by the spilling of politically important blood, reporting as she goes with her trademark blend of wisecracking humor, remarkable honesty, and thought-provoking criticism. We learn about the jinx that was Robert Todd Lincoln (present at the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley) and witness the politicking that went into the making of the Lincoln Memorial. The resulting narrative is much more than an entertaining and informative travelogue -- it is the disturbing and fascinating story of how American death has been manipulated by popular culture, including literature, architecture, sculpture, and -- the author's favorite -- historical tourism. Though the themes of loss and violence are explored and we make detours to see how the Republican Party became the Republican Party, there are all kinds of lighter diversions along the way into the lives of the three presidents and their assassins, including mummies, show tunes, mean-spirited totem poles, and a nineteenth-century biblical sex cult.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:50 -0400)

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A tour of key historic sites in America where incidents of political violence have occurred reveals lesser-known points of interest pertaining to each and shares information about how history has been shaped by popular culture and tourism.

(summary from another edition)

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