What's All This Then?

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What's All This Then?

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Thursday Edition

To err is human. To break every commandment before
breakfast takes skill: Scott Smith's Ten.

Coudal Partners

Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer
by James L. Swanson

Field-Tested by Brian Frazer

on a plane and in a hotel room in Newtown, Pennsylvania

Last winter, I boarded a plane from Los Angeles to Philadelphia to visit my mother-in-law back east. I was carrying a copy of Manhunt, which was apropos since it was on an airplane (Boston to Houston) in 1992 that I became hooked on history.


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A doctor, whom I was randomly seated next to, saw me reading a copy of Voltaire’s Candide and remarked how it was unusual to see anyone reading a classic anymore. He followed up that blanket statement by asking me if I was interested in history. History? "Yeah, sure, I guess." Not exactly a glowing endorsement for the genre. He proceeded to write out a list of ten history books: Barbara Tuchman’s Guns of August, William Manchester’s The Last Lion, and eight other titles in scribbly gibberish.

After heeding his advice and reading The Guns of August, fiction took a backseat for me. I proceeded to devour the other nine books on the list, each one better than the last. Since that chance meeting with the stethoscoped historian, 90% of my reading has been history; however, until Manhunt, no book impressed me as much as anything on his introductory list.

I knew Booth was a successful actor, I just wasn’t aware of the enormity of his success. It would have been the equivalent of Jim Carrey, at his peak, assassinating George W. Bush (which would have been splendid on so many levels). But, most importantly, like Tuchman, Swanson sucks you into the story as if you’re reading yesterday’s newspaper. When I arrived in Pennsylvania, at my mother-in-law’s retirement community, I loaned her the book, which she, too, loved. It has since made the rounds among seven or eight of her friends, and I feel like I’ve returned the doctor’s favor by turning a few seniors onto history before they become history.

Brian Frazer is the author of the memoir, Hyper-Chondriac: One Man’s Quest to Hurry Up and Calm Down. He meant no offense to old people in his closing sentence.

Buy Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer

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