Monday, December 22, 2008

Review: Assassination Vacation

Title: Assassination Vacation
Author: Sarah Vowell
Genre: History, Travel, Humor
Published: April 2005
Pages: 258
Run Time: 7 hours (6 CDs)
Rating: 8 / 10
Challenges: N/A
Awards: none

Synopsis (from the back cover):
Sarah Vowell exposes the glorious conundrums of American history and culture with wit, probity, and an irreverent sense of humor. With Assassination Vacation, she takes us on a road tip like no other - a journey to the pit stops of American political murder and through the myriad ways they have been used for fun and profit, for political and cultural advantage.

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 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 nineteenth-century biblical sex cult.

My Review: I love Sarah Vowell. I loved her in The Incredibles, and I love listening to her on NPR (that link has a few excerpts from the audiobook, btw). I'm not terribly fascinated by history, but this book made me a lot more interested. Vowell points out weird similarities and connections between Presidencies (the Robert Todd Lincoln curse was especially amusing) and spends her time dragging her friends and family members to various assassination-related tourist spots. It may sound strange, but it works. I listened to the audiobook on my way to and from work, and it made the drive a lot more interesting. Vowell's voice really adds to the enjoyment - her writing is amazing and funny, but hearing her read her words makes the experience even better. Her delivery is so deadpanned, I don't think it would be the same with another reader.

I learned a lot from Assassination Vacation, but the best part of reading it was being able to recognize the names when they came up later. Synchronicity: William H. Seward, most famous for "Seward's Folly" (aka Alaska), was also the target of an assassination attempt the same night as Lincoln's shooting at Ford's Theater. Seward was also a one-time resident of Eatonton, my current place of residence. My Drama Club is participating in "Eatonton Days," and one of the scripts I've read mentioned Seward, which made me think of Vowell, which sent me to Wikipedia for more info. Unfortunately, Seward's time here was so short-lived, it doesn't even warrant a mention. Sad. On the bright side, maybe one day Vowell will decide to expand her road trips to include obscure communities in random historical figures' pasts. If that day ever comes, I'll be more than happy to show her around town.

Other Reviews:
If you have reviewed this book as well, leave me a message in the comments and I'll link to your review.

1 comment:

Veens said...

I have never read anything from this author...and I am always fascinated with history! :)

I will try and see if I can get this one :)