Killing Lincoln: Review

Most evenings, I watch at least portions of The O’Reilly Factor, so I hear Bill O’Reilly’s books mentioned often. I’ve read Killing Reagan and Killing Jesus, and now it was time to dig into Killing Lincoln.

I cringed when I saw that the first 80 pages or so were about the Civil War — specifics on battles, etc. This level of detail on a war doesn’t usually interest me. Side note — it fascinates me though that many people (mostly male, I suspect) *do* love all things Civil War. I remember my first year teaching — there was one sixth grade boy who had a bad attitude and wasn’t interested in much of anything I was teaching. Imagine that! Idealistic and determined to reach him, I asked him what he liked and he mumbled, “the Civil War.” We did a whole bunch on the Civil War that year. I later taught summer courses for gifted kids on the Civil War. There were kids out there who could name every general and tell you every date. It’s amazing — and a little strange, honestly! So anyway. No worries — the war tales in this book did hold my attention. It’s written in a very engaging way.

By Currier & Ives, 1865. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Currier & Ives, 1865. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Interesting things:

  • At the time of Lincoln, there was no gate around the White House as there is today. In fact, the public could walk right into the house and wander all over the first floor, “seeking political favors, stealing scraps of the curtains as keepsakes, or just peering in at the president while he worked.” How things have changed!
  • While I know there are various takes and theories on this, Mary Lincoln comes across as quite a mess: She “suffered from a mental disorder that made her prone to severe mood swings and was emotionally destroyed by the loss of her boys. Even as Lincoln was mired in the war and dealing with his own grief, he devoted hours to tending to Mary and the silent downwards spiral that seemed to define her daily existence. He indulged her by allowing her to spend lavishly, to the point of putting him deeply in debt, though he is by nature a very simple and frugal man.” It was to please Mary that he went to Ford’s Theatre on the night of his death.
  • Strange coincidence: Edwin Booth, older brother of assassin John Wilkes Booth, saved the life of Lincoln’s oldest son, Robert Lincoln, by shoving him out of the path of an oncoming train. Also, Robert was in love for a time with John Wilkes Booth’s fiancee, Lucy Hale.
  • Abraham and Mary Lincoln went to the theatre with Henry Rathbone and his fiancee, Clara Harris. Those two married, but Rathbone later went insane and killed Clara using a knife.
  • After he was shot, men carried Lincoln across the street to the Petersen boarding house so that he could die in a dignified manner, in a bed. John Wilkes Booth had often stayed in this boarding house, and three weeks prior he stayed in the very room where Lincoln died.
  • I always think of Mary Lincoln as being a plump little older lady. I was surprised to realize that she was just 46 at the time of Lincoln’s assassination. I read that later, after 3 of her 4 sons had died, her remaining oldest son had her institutionalized. She was 56. Although she does sound erratic, I have to wonder how much of her “insanity” was due to grief, menopause, etc.
  • Since this has been a huge bestseller, it surprised me to read on the first page that Lincoln “furls his brow.” Shouldn’t it be “furrowed?” After that, though, no more errors stuck out to me. Apparently others have noticed it as well (although they’ve given it quite a bit more research than I did).

I recommend this book. It was a really quick read full of interesting information about our nation’s history.







6 thoughts on “Killing Lincoln: Review

  1. So you’ve made me interested in reading this book, even though I’m not a big war reader either. I do like stories from people who lived during the wars, just not so much details about the wars themselves. 🙂

  2. I was a Civil War freak for years–I’ve forgotten much. I am surprised you gave him 5 stars for this. The ones I’ve read were really pretty bad. Vapid even. Patton one was full of holes and needed real research. Maybe he learned? Well written review though–I’m talking about the book, not your writing.

  3. Hopewell — well, if it had errors, in many cases I wouldn’t know (not being a Civil War aficionado). This one was one of his first, prior to Patton — which I won’t read because that topic doesn’t do much for me. Your mileage may vary! And, of course, I doubt O’Reilly did much if any of the writing. That is done by “co-writer” Martin DuGard.

  4. I’ve not read anything by O’Reilly. Thanks for sharing the interesting facts!

    Living in the South all my life, I’ve know many people fascinated with the Civil War. I’ve wondered if there were nearly as many Northerners with the same interest.

  5. I’ve heard that Mary has been diagnosed by some doctor, posthumously, with some physical disease, but for the life of me, I can’t remember now what it was. It made sense to me at the time I read it.

  6. I have this book on my TBR table. I enjoyed your review and it makes me want to get to my copy soon.

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