Assassination Vacation

Assassination Vacation

Book - 2005
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Transporting us from Buffalo to Alaska, Washington to Key West, Vowell has crafted a narrative that is much more than a historical travelogue - it is the disturbing and mesmerising story of how American death has been manipulated by popular culture, including film, literature, and - the author's favourite - historical tourism. Skilfully belying the undercurrents of loss and violence that course through her journey, Vowell injects a range of lighter detours along the way, including mummies, show tunes, mean-spirited totem poles, a nineteenth-century biblical sex cult - and exactly how Lincoln's Republican Party became Bush's Republican Party. Assassination Vacation is a fascinating, informative, and richly entertaining look at the myriad ways in which political assassinations have altered and shaped our nation's history.
Publisher: New York : Simon and Schuster, [2005]
ISBN: 9780743260046
Characteristics: 258 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm


From Library Staff

Discussed on November 8, 2018 as part of our Author! Author! series

Discussing on November 20, 2018

DPL_Graham Nov 30, 2018

When I told my friends I was reading a “funny” book called Assassination Vacation they all screwed up their faces, gave me an odd look, and asked “How can a book about presidential assassinations be funny?” You wouldn’t think it’s possible but Sarah Vowell is the master of taking a serious topic ... Read More »

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Jun 16, 2020

I learned so much from this book, and I also laughed really hard. Sarah Vowell provides an amazing blend of historical facts and amusing anecdotes. I especially appreciated the sections about Garfield and McKinley since I knew almost nothing about them. I'm going to recommend this book to everyone I know who has even a vague interest in history. Definitely the funniest book about assassination that I have ever read!

Nov 12, 2019

American history tends to sanctify and sanitize reality, becoming somewhat bland and repetitive in the process. Sarah Vowell's great gift is to look at that same stock history and find the foibles of the real people involved, the hilarious absurdities of messy reality, and to make American history light and fun. In this book she examines not at the lives of three great American Presidents, but instead finds just as much insight into Americana in the lives of the three men who assassinated those Presidents.

DPL_Graham Nov 30, 2018

When I told my friends I was reading a “funny” book called Assassination Vacation they all screwed up their faces, gave me an odd look, and asked “How can a book about presidential assassinations be funny?” You wouldn’t think it’s possible but Sarah Vowell is the master of taking a serious topic and finds dark humor and witty observations everywhere. Sarah explores three presidential assassinations (Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley) and their assassins in detail.

Through her work, American history is brought to life and the sea of names, dates, and places starts to part and let us see the true people and actions involved in each event. In her unique style, Vowell simultaneously travels around the country exploring, touching, and getting seasick at related plaques, monuments, roadside attractions, and spots where old banks used to stand. Each trip on her vacation helps us understand the assassinations.

Vowell unique voice, depth of knowledge, and humor brings the past and present together in a wonderful cacophony. Even if you aren’t a huge fan of history this book is highly recommended. Vowell has stated that her goal is to “to talk to my country about what my country is like” and this is yet another huge success by this multi-talented author and performer.

SPPL_János Mar 14, 2018

Vowell drags her reluctant family, friends, and any stranger who will listen to her into the macabre history of the first three U.S. presidential assassinations. Her unseemly passion for historical plaques and offbeat museums illuminates the tragic ends of Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, and William McKinley and the disturbing individuals who thought to overturn the will of the American electorate. From the museum display of Lincoln's skull fragments to the desert island prison of John Wilkes Booth's coconspirators to a Nineteenth Century free love commune, Vowell turns up endless tidbits and uncanny connections. It's less a linear travelogue and more a whirlwind of fascinating trivia and black humor with a gleefully obsessed hostess.

Sep 04, 2017

Love this book, and now Sarah.

I have seen her on Letterman and The Daily Show over the years, and enjoyed her interviews, but just never read one of her books. I guess I thought they'd be "too intellectual".

Boy was I wrong.

It is about 3 assassinations - Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley which I found very informative and very enjoyable. So much so, that she's inspired me to read more on Garfield and McKinley.

She's very entertaining and makes the topic sound interesting. I'm really ignorant on presidents and US history, but she's inspired me to be in awe of James A. Garfield.
UPDATE: Sarah has inspired a new love of American History. As of Sept 2, I have read or listened to 203 books, probably 99% history/non fiction. Thanks, Sarah!

Jun 13, 2017

The author, Sarah Vowell, would herself make for an interesting study. Describing herself as “more of a Ten Commandments, rule-of-law girl” compared to the anarchist-inspired Emma Goldman, one may wonder otherwise, considering the subjects of this book: Assassinated U.S. Presidents.

I didn’t know what to expect when I picked this up. I’d so enjoyed another of her titles that I wanted to read more of Vowell’s material. Here, she recounts the killings of Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, and William McKinley. Her recounting the days, hours and moments both before and after their deaths are written as if she is in conversation with the reader, providing her first-person accounts of visiting the sites of each killing, plus other landmarks and memorial to each victim, plus the killers themselves.

This is not a dry read. Its colour comes through her own present-day thoughts about these historical moments while travelling – usually in the company of a friend, as Vowell doesn’t drive – around the U.S. to these monuments and landmarks of history. I recommend this to readers who wish to avoid the hoity-toitiness of textbook-like reading or material steeped in partisan politics.

Radharc May 06, 2017

A "light" look at three presidential assassinations and what went on behind the scenes of each one. Chock full of interesting trivia, this trip down some of America's darker days is a worthy read.

Jun 19, 2016

This is an easy-to-read history of three presidential assassinations. Fun history!

Jul 26, 2015

Assassinations may not seem like a logical choice for summer reading; however, as usual Sarah Vowell makes the unusual entertaining. I definitely recommend this book (as well as her other books).

JCLBeckyC Sep 16, 2013

A history book for people who think they don't like history books. If you can, listen to the audio version featuring Sarah Vowell herself, along with Jon Stewart, Conan O'Brien, David Rakoff and others.

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