This review is for the audiobook version of Assassination Vacation, by Sarah Vowell.
I love history. It was my favorite subject in school. I’ve always seen it as a series of stories, twisted together and linked past to present, leading us to where we are now, not just a list of wars, dates, and names. Those names were people, they lived and loved, they worked, fought, and died. Some we know about, most we don’t, but I love reading and learning about the stories of the past. Sarah Vowell seems to as well. This is the second of her books I’ve listened to this year, and I LOVED it. I hope she continues to do historical travelogues.
She begins, of course, with the first presidential assassination, visiting sites connected to Abraham Lincoln, his death, and his killer. She explores the Booth family, and Edward’s connection to Robert. Along with stories about the assassin and the assassinated, are personal asides and stories about the people Sarah meets on her journeys. I especially enjoyed stories about her nephew going along on trips to “Halloween parks” (cemeteries) and looking at stones with her.
The second half of the book is split between Garfield and McKinley, neither of whom she thinks we would have remembered if they had lived, and neither of whom I was very familiar with. I didn’t know much about their killers either, one of whom was probably mentally ill and had been raised in a sex cult, the other raised in a community of immigrants and was involved with anarchists.
As with Lafayette in the Somewhat United States, there is a full cast to read quotes from the historical figures, including Jon Stewart, Conan O’Brien, Catherine Keener, and Steven King.