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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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I loved this book. I listened to the audio version, which has the added advantage of Ms. Vowell's voice and flat expression to add to her writing. She writes of American history with an original, interesting perspective. ( )
  baobab | Jan 23, 2015 |
Sarah Vowell's Assassination Vacation skims across the surface of history by taking the reader on third-party tours of historic sites. The book focuses on the assassinations of presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley, but almost all of it is about Lincoln. (In my paperback, Lincoln gets 98 pages, Garfield gets 62, and McKinley gets 46.) Which may be fair--there are probably a lot more sites to visit related to Lincoln's life and death than anyone else's. But if you're looking for a history lesson on any of these men, this is not the book for you.

Lincoln gets not only the most real estate in the book, but he also get the most sentiment. The author begins by catching a play at Ford Threatre and walking down to the Lincoln Memorial afterward. She admires the monument and reflects on the meaning of Lincoln's words engraved on the walls. She draws comparisons to modern history and thinks about how Lincoln's actions and death have influenced our world. From here, she gives a brief account of Lincoln's assassination and the actions leading up to it, interspersed with conversations with tour guides. The tour guides seem to be authorities on the little patches of land that they represent, but Vowell doesn't cite any other sources and doesn't mention fact checking anything these first-name-only guides say.

Vowell does find some pretty obscure Lincoln sites to visit. She goes to his home, the place of his assassination, the house where John Wilkes Booth stopped after fleeing, even the prison where that house's owner was condemned, and many other places. But the information she gleans is all pretty shallow. Even in the "I didn't know that!" moments, I felt hesitation, like I needed to Google it before telling anyone else about it.

When she moves onto Garfield, the biggest point she makes is, "Who cares about Garfield?!" I actually just read a wonderful and in-depth biography of Garfield, so my response was a full-throated, "I do!" This was the most frustrating section for me because I have a higher-than-average knowledge and appreciation of Garfield after reading Destiny of the Republic, and Assassination Vacation brings no new information to the table. In fact, it's so scant on details, that if you can name Garfield's assassin off the top of your head, then you probably don't have much to learn here.

The Garfield section blends directly into the McKinley section so quickly I didn't realize we were done with Garfield yet. I don't know nearly as much about McKinley as I do about Garfield (or Lincoln), but I still thought this section was too light. Maybe the nation was so exhausted by the time McKinley was assassinated that they didn't feel it necessary to dedicate a bunch of tourist sites to him? Maybe. That would explain why this section is so short and light.

Sarah Vowell can be very funny (and, yes, a bit humble-braggy), and some of the characters she encounters on the way are quite interesting. But this is neither a history book nor a biography, despite being shelved that way.
This is a travelogue or a humorous travel memoir. It reveals a lot more about the author than about any of the presidents, and I think the author's larger point has more to do with the quirks of American culture anyway. I think if you know that going in, you'll probably like this book--especially if you have a plane trip or beach vacation coming up. It's light, at times silly, and very softly macabre, but it's not historic. ( )
  JLSmither | Dec 21, 2014 |
As an active Markeroon, this book appeals to me quite a bit. Vowell visits a large number of historic sites, all somehow related to the first assassinated presidents: Lincoln, McKinley, and Garfield. Her commentary is often quite funny, but also includes a large amount of interesting information I hadn't known, to the point where I kind of want to visit all these places on my own. My only complaint was the bellyaching about George W. Bush. I'm sympathetic, and this book was published during his tenure, but it dates the book needlessly. All in all, I recommend this book to anyone interested in American history, especially its bloodier aspects. ( )
  melydia | Aug 29, 2014 |
For a unique and morbid vacation experience, Sarah Vowell decided to travel the country by visiting locations where politicians have been assassinated. In this book, she shares interesting anecdotes, both from history and her own experiences, as well as a ton of fun facts. I really liked this approach to the story because, as I mentioned in my review of The Map Thief, I like when authors of nonfiction insert themselves into their work. It’s one way of adding immediacy to a story which is mostly about the past. I also enjoyed the historical information which the author presented in a fashion suitable for a cocktail party. This was often enjoyable but something about her light tone sometimes rubbed me the wrong way.

In addition to something intangible, there were several specific components of her causal writing style which bothered me. The biggest problem was the organization. The author was constantly going on tangents from the main story. The book did not clearly move forward through time in either her historical anecdotes or her stories about her travels. This made it hard for me to make connections between different facts and anecdotes, which makes it far less likely I’ll remember any of them later. Although the book had four different sections, the first one on Abraham Lincoln took up almost half the book and the rest of the sections often jumped back into his story. I think it’s possible the author should have stuck with that one story instead of tagging on several others.

I also disliked the author’s choice to include her own political opinions. Even though I often agreed with her, I don’t give any particular weight to her opinions and felt like they added to the incoherence of the book. Her jokes didn’t always work for me and in one case, involving the use of the word “retarded”, I found her very offensive. I can see why some people might like her writing style. She has endless enthusiasm and tells what could be dry stories in fascinating ways. However, her casual attitude, her choice to swamp the story with her own opinions, and her disorganization made this only an ok read for me.

This review first published on Doing Dewey. ( )
  DoingDewey | Jun 29, 2014 |
I mistook Assassination Vacation for a novel at first (misled by the title, I think), so was a bit put off by it to start. Once my reading brain had rotated to the task at hand, however, I became duly engrossed in Vowell's historical travelogue. AV is a buddy flic choc full of Dead Presidents with their ancillary assassins & hangers on. Amusing & informative review of American history 1865-1901. The central figure, the President to whom all else returns, is, of course, Abraham Lincoln--along with Kennedy, the most notoriously dead President of all. Assassination Vacation reads as a grandchild of Howard Zinn's The People's History of the United States and as a sisterly companion to the poet Brenda Coultas's The Marvelous Bones of Time. ( )
  Paulagraph | May 25, 2014 |
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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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:31:51 -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.

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