This book by James Swanson is simply a kick-ass good read about the 12-day manhunt that followed the assassination of President Lincoln. It’s representative of a new approach to documenting history that is best described as dramatic narrative non-fiction. It’s not dramatized or fictionalized history, similar to what Newt Gingrich has been publishing of late, but rather a dramatic telling of actual events that relies exclusively on the historical record to drive the story. As such, Manhunt is a compelling page turner that reads like a novel while providing sumptuous detail and nuance of this brutal, tragic event and the ensuing manhunt that riveted a stunned nation.

Another excellent example of this type of non-fiction narrative is The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson about the events surrounding the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. Devil is one of the most entertaining books I have ever read.

But, back to Manhunt. Most of us know that John Wilkes Booth assassinated Abraham Lincoln on the night of April 14th, 1865 as he sat in Ford’s Theater enjoying a performance of Our American Cousin. But how many of us know what Booth did earlier that day to prepare the Presidential box for the dastardly deed? Do we know what Lincoln’s frame of mind was on the day he was shot? Do we know what kind of gun Booth used and why it is significant? Do we know what Laura Keene, star of Our American Cousin, did to take personal advantage of the tragic, historic moment? Do we know how long Lincoln lived after the mortal head shot? Are we aware of the details of the struggle between Lewis Powell and Secretary of State Seward on that same fateful night? Do we know why Dr. Samuel Mudd helped Booth and Herold shortly after the assassination. Do we know who else, in addition to Dr. Mudd, helped Booth flee south into Virginia?

These and many more questions are answered in Swanson’s book. It is packed with fascinating details derived from court transcripts, witness depositions, letters, journals, etc. woven into a narrative that is no less compelling today than it was to a stunned and shattered nation in 1865.

I highly recommend it.