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 lighter diversions into the lives of the three presidents and their assassins, including mummies, show tunes, mean-spirited totem poles, and a 19th-century biblical sex cult.
In Order of Appearance:
Conan O'Brien...Robert Todd Lincoln
Eric Bogosian...John Wilkes Booth
Stephen King...President Abraham Lincoln
Dave Eggers...Mike Ryan
Catherine Keener...Gretchen Worden
Jon Stewart...President James A. Garfield
Tony Kushner...John Humphrey Noyes
Brad Bird...Charles Guiteau & Emma Goldman
Daniel Handler...President William McKinley
Greg Giraldo...President Theodore Roosevelt
David Rakoff...Leon Czolgosz
©2005 Sarah Vowell; (P)2005 Simon & Schuster Inc. AUDIOWORKS is an imprint of Simon & Schuster Audio Division, Simon & Schuster, Inc.
"Vowell has a perspective on American history that is definitely funny." (School Library Journal)
"Wacky, weirdly enthralling....This is history at its most morbid and most fascinating and, fortunately, one needn't share Vowell's interest in the macabre to thoroughly enjoy this unusual tour." (Publishers Weekly)
"An engaging tour....Audiobook listeners get serious bang for their buck, including guest appearances by Stephen King (as Lincoln), Jon Stewart, Conan O'Brien, and Eric Bogosian, among others." (AudioFile)
I can see how Sarah Vowell's voice may seem grating, but I suppose years of hearing her pieces on "This American Life" has conditioned me to expect greatness whenever I hear it.
This book isn't any different. It reminds me a great deal of some of those bits on "TAL" dealing with historic figures (Lafayette was a recent one). Her obsession with Presidential assassinations is cleverly portrayed in her well-crafted writing style, and her narration is dead-on.
Any complaints about Vowell's "Bush-bashing" should be taken very lightly. She takes a few jabs at our current President, but only to make a few points about the arrogance of assassins... people who deign to make the decision for the country on whether or not a given person is suitable to lead us. I think she raises a very valid point by bringing up Dubya.
A pleasure to listen to, thanks in no small part to Vowell's group of buddies lending narrative variety to our country's cast of characters. Particular kudos to Brad Bird for his funny-but-creepy readings of Charles Guiteau's gallows-poetry.
There's a moment in this book where Sarah Vowell is being told about the history of the Dry Tortugas National Park by a park ranger with such infectious enthusiasm for his subject that Ms. Vowell relates that she felt giddy listening to him, as if visiting the Dry Tortugas was one of the very luckiest things that could happen to a girl. That's what listening to "Assassination Vacation" was like for me. The material is extremely interesting--this book covers the assassinations of Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley, including related details about the strange sexual ideology of the Oneida community, John Wilkes Booth's brother's illustrious career as a Shakespearean actor, and Vowell's 3-year-old nephew's obsession with graveyards. More importantly, Vowell's enthusiasm for her subject conveyed by her Lisa Simpson-soprano is so infectious that I wanted to book a trip to the Dry Tortugas to see where John Wilkes Booth's doctor was imprisoned myself.
This is a really fun listen replete with gee-whiz factoids I can't stop relating to my friends. The connections between the three different assassinations discussed here are expecially fascinating.
Vowell's patriotism is also inspiring. The devotion to country that lead Ms. Vowell to complete this homage to fallen presidents gives "Assassination Vacation" a genuine sweetness completely different from the my-country-right-or-wrong saccharine so popular in today's political climate. Ms. Vowell's sort of patriotism--the kind that visits the Dry Tortugas to learn more about our nation's history, the kind that recognizes our country's failings rather than whitewashing them, the kind that loves America both for what it stands for and for what it really is--this is the kind of love for country we need more of, not the facile nationalism that confuses what is and what ought to be.
If only all history could be read (heard) in this format. Vowell has made an art out of putting history, places, and stories together into an entertaining thriller of a book. I was a history major in college but I never had any history delivered to me with such style and skill. She should continue to do more works just like this and we will all be wiser!
An engrossing book! Sarah Vowell presents history in the same way that I often learn it. It's not linear, and it is linked to personal experiences. She took me on a journey -- with the Lincoln Memorial as an enduring place for our return. I hated to have to occasionally interrupt the journey!
She makes no pretense of being without bias. Her lens is personal. And isn't that the way it is with all of us?
This book was a lot of fun. Sarah Vowell's research, insights, and sense of humor make this a great book. One would probably either really enjoy or really hate her little-girl voice. I, for one, thought that it added to experience of the book. Her left-leaning political views will put some off, but most will enjoy the ride.
I learned more about Lincoln, Garfield (who?) and McKinley than I ever imagined. The stories of the assassins themselves and their motives, backgrounds and post-shooting history was a step back into an Americana that possesses many surprising similarities to today's America.
Unfortunately, listening to the narrator's voice was so painful for me. I slugged through it with only one break to hear what was coming next because I was on a plane; if I had several breaks, I would've been tempted at any time to not continue, just to avoid that voice! Lisa Simpson-esque, full of awkward starts and stops and pauses -- DEFINITELY listen to the sample first (I didn't).
This is superb: funny, scholarly and fascinating. Ms. Vowell?s journey in the footsteps of presidential assassins is one of the best books I?ve downloaded from Audible.
I was shocked -- I usually find Sarah Vowell's voice as soothing as nails on a chalkboard but, not only did I survive listening to hours of her, but I enjoyed the experience. This book has stayed with me for months now and may be the first audible.com DL that I listen to for a second time. Interesting and fun.
Seriously, the author's obsession is a little disturbing, but the history is fascinating and the humour with which it's presented is great.
I found that Assassination Vacation did not engage me as much as Sarah Vowell's other book, Partly Cloudy Patriot. It is full of interesting tidbits about the various assassinated presidents' lives, but it failed to engage me on any sort of emotional level.
Sarah Vowell writes well and tells interesting anecdotes, which works well in a book of short stories like Partly Cloudy Patriot. However Assassination Vacation is more of a travelog with no story arc -- not even a well defined route -- to follow. Hence, we're jolted back and forth in time and space as Vowell explores the three assassinations. In the end, there is no resolution, just a few wistfull sentences of reflection.
That the book seems to have no flow doesn't mean that it's not enjoyable. I like Sarah Vowell's self-deprecating writing style and have learned to accept her voice. There is a near constant stream of interesting historical nuggets that is enough for any info-buff to feast on. If you don't have long stretches to imerse yourself in a story, this book might be just the thing.
On the whole, I would recommend this book to people who have already listened to Partly Cloudy Patriot -- and enjoyed it -- and like historical trivia.
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