Civil War historians must alert Allan Pinkerton; there is a plot to assassinate Bill O’Reilly’s latest book, “Killing Lincoln.” Although Lincoln may be dead, O’Reilly’s book has aroused sentiment that resembles revolutionary fervor.
Civil War historians must alert Allan Pinkerton; there is a plot to assassinate Bill O’Reilly’s latest book, “Killing Lincoln.” Although Lincoln may be dead, O’Reilly’s book has aroused sentiment that resembles revolutionary fervor. O’Reilly is the bombastic anchor of his own news show, “The O’Reilly Factor.” He is also a best-selling author of a handful of books. But this is election season, and thousands of Amazon.com reviewers are writing in, reviewing his latest book, “Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination That Changed America Forever ” a historical fiction account of the events a few weeks before and after his death. Official reviewers say the book reads like a Grisham novel. They are right. It does read like a Grisham novel. It’s an exciting book, and hard to put down; those who take more than a few days or a week to read it are probably not fans of history. Yet, it’s is not easy to find an objective review of the book among the thousands of amazon.com reviewers, mostly because of the political heat O’Reilly generates from his news show.
The book has lots of five- and one-star reviews, and fewer in between. Can the book be extremely good and bad? Not likely. Some of the negative reviews have no connection to the book, and instead are slings at O’Reilly and his show. Many are followers of Dr. Ron Paul, and have come to defend their candidate from O’Reilly’s slights. But it’s a poor venue for complaining about “The O’Reilly Factor.” Among the one-star reviews, many are simply lacking in objectivity, talking about how O’Reilly “spins” narrative in the book, an obvious reference to elements of the show. At least two of the main complaints against the book can be dismissed. One is that the date on the destruction and reopening of Ford’s Theater is wrong. Evidently it has been corrected or never was wrong; the dates are 1962 and 1963, which are accurate. Another quibble is the use of furl instead of furrow - as in furrowing ones brow, since the book opens with the use of furl. The authors should be vindicated since a 2007 New York Times article uses furl; other other linguists have labeled the use obscure, but not wrong.
As a Grisham - type historical novel, the book is brilliant in it’s scope and treatment of the event. It’s not an exhaustive retelling of the topic by any measure. Rather, it introduces characters and events leading up to Lincoln’s assassination. It does make creative character liberties with the motivations of the main perpetrators of the assassination attempt, like John Wilkes Booth. Historical authors will no doubt attempt to copy the style of O’Reilly and Dugan, with historical thriller imprint. They would be wise to attempt this, since the style is so effective. At least one amazon.com reviewer compares it with other books on the topic, such as “Abraham Lincoln: A Life,” by Michael Burlingame. Burlingame’s book is a massive 2,024 page volume. With a list price of $125, it’s not exactly accessible to the average reader. To compare this book to O’Reilly’s is a little out of touch with a mass market historical publishing appeal. Another book, by Edward Steers Jr., “Blood on the Moon: The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln,” presents more detail about security surrounding the president, and why it was relatively easy for Boothe to kill the president. The book, by Edward Steers Jr., costs less than $15, and would seem to be an excellent companion to O’Reilly’s book. But Steers’ book is not a historical thriller.
The difference is that O’Reilly covers more ground than Steers’ book, moving west to describe the end of the Civil War in Virginia, as well as the last battle before Lee’s surrender. Other vignettes include a description of the young Gen. George Custer and his impetuous and courageous battle personality, and the astounding wreckage of the Civil War, with the emaciated and starving Confederate troops. The two describe bloody accounts of battles leading up to Lee’s surrender. Steers’ book also describes how Lincoln was mocked for ducking an assassination attempt soon before Booth’s gun shot, an accurate but eery picture into the political influence of the news media during the time. It is sad that cartoons of Lincoln attempting to protect himself may have contributed to his death. While Steers’ book covers some exciting details about Lincoln, authors like Steers are often are not able to ignore information, which can make for tedious reading. This is not the case with O’Reilly’s book. John Grisham would be proud.
© 2012 Larry Ingram
Based in St Louis,
Larry Ingram writes about the news media, movies and culture, as well as topics like race, privilege, Christianity, religious expression and tolerance.
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