By Sarah Vowell
Simon & Schuster, Paperback, 9780743260046, 258pp.
Publication Date: January 2006
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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 trip 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 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 all kinds of lighter diversions along the way 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.
"A learned, engagingly discursive, funny, sometimes even jolly ramble -- literally -- through the landscape of American presidential assassinations...Vowell makes an excellent traveling companion, what with her rare combination of erudition and cheek."
-- Bruce Handy, The New York Times Book Review
"[Vowell's] gift is one of cosmic inclusion -- allowing the natural collision of intellect and personality, rigorous research, and generational quirks." -- Joan Anderman, The Boston Globe