Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer

144 years ago today--Good Friday, April 14, 1865, about 10:15 PM--President Abraham Lincoln was shot in Ford's Theater by John Wilkes Booth. Lincoln would die the next morning at 7:22 AM across the street in the Peterson House. It would be 12 more days until they were able to hunt down Booth.

I recently read James Swanson's book, Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer. It's a remarkable book that I couldn't put down--and at times, the writing was so vivid that I found myself holding my breath for more than one paragraph! I don't remember previously reading a book that so effectively combined meticulous historical research and reconstruction with a narrative writing style that reads like a novel. I wish more Christian history was written like this!

When reading it I wondered if it would someday become a movie. For a while a movie was in the works, with Harrison Ford as the lead, playing Boston Corbett (who shot and killed Booth). But the latest word is that this movie fell through and there are now plans to do an HBO mini-series.

If you read the book, it's also worth renting the History Channel's 2-hour DVD, The Hunt for John Wilkes Booth. (It's based on Michael Kauffman's book, American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies, and has actors reconstructing various scenes and takes you to the actual locations, which is a helpful followup to the book.)

Other books by Swanson, of interest, are Chasing Lincoln's Killer (a young adults version of Manhunt) and Lincoln's Assassins: Their Trial and Execution (a coffee table book with numerous photos of historical artifacts and actual photos of the hanging of the co-conspirators--though I wish there was a companion book on the assassination and the key people involved).

But again, if you're looking for a good book in which you'll learn a lot about an important event in American history, then Manhunt one is hard to beat!

(Picture above is of the presidential box at Ford's Theater where Lincoln was shot. The photo was taken the next day. Click to enlarge.)