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Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination That Changed America Forever

Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard; Henry Holt

Killing Lincoln assembled examination of how one man’s anger led him is an artfully to murder. But while the authors demonstrate that Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth, was an amateurish mess lacking impulse control, their book’s factual errors diminish an otherwise penetrating story. As a result Killing Lincoln—or more especially, its media-star co-author Bill O’Reilly—has created consternation among Lincoln scholars. The book has been banned, wrongly in my opinion, from the Ford’s Theatre National Historic Site because it “suffers from factual errors and a lack of documentation.” But both print and e-book editions have endured on the best-seller lists of The New York Times Book Review.

The authors fail to explain why Lincoln was murdered or consider any involvement by the Confederate Secret Service. Dr. Samuel A. Mudd’s and Mary Surratt’s roles are treated ambiguously. And where is the evidence that the Booth conspiracy included Vice President Andrew Johnson, Secretary of State William Seward, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and General Ulysses S. Grant?

O’Reilly seems to be less interested in the controversy surrounding Lincoln’s death than in another mission. The Fox News host believes America is in dire straits and that a history lesson might help cure it. What the country really needs is another Lincoln, whose loss spelled disastrous consequences for America. O’Reilly believes if Lincoln “had lived and served a second term, the nation would be a lot less fractured than it is now.” He also believes that Lincoln still would belong to the Republican Party if he were alive today, since “He didn’t want a social welfare system.”

A review of Killing Lincoln’s manuscript by an expert would have improved the book immeasurably. Now historians are saddled with the task of debunking a bestseller.


Originally published in the June 2012 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.