Sarah Vowell – Assassination Vacation


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 lighter diversions into the lives of the three presidents and their assassins, including mummies, show tunes, mean-spirited totem poles, and a 19th-century biblical sex cult.

In Order of Appearance:

Conan O’Brien…Robert Todd Lincoln

Eric Bogosian…John Wilkes Booth

Stephen King…President Abraham Lincoln

Dave Eggers…Mike Ryan

Catherine Keener…Gretchen Worden

Jon Stewart…President James A. Garfield

Tony Kushner…John Humphrey Noyes

Brad Bird…Charles Guiteau & Emma Goldman

Daniel Handler…President William McKinley

Greg Giraldo…President Theodore Roosevelt

David Rakoff…Leon Czolgosz

Author: Sarah Vowell
Narrator: Conan O’Brien, Stephen King, Dave Eggers, Jon Stewart
Duration: 7 hours 19 minutes
Released: 5 May 2004
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio
Language: English

User Review:

three-star ancient

There’s a moment in this book where Sarah Vowell is being told about the history of the Dry Tortugas National Park by a park ranger with such infectious enthusiasm for his subject that Ms. Vowell relates that she felt giddy listening to him, as if visiting the Dry Tortugas was one of the very luckiest things that could happen to a girl. That’s what listening to “Assassination Vacation” was like for me. The material is extremely interesting–this book covers the assassinations of Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley, including related details about the strange sexual ideology of the Oneida community, John Wilkes Booth’s brother’s illustrious career as a Shakespearean actor, and Vowell’s 3-year-old nephew’s obsession with graveyards. More importantly, Vowell’s enthusiasm for her subject conveyed by her Lisa Simpson-soprano is so infectious that I wanted to book a trip to the Dry Tortugas to see where John Wilkes Booth’s doctor was imprisoned myself.

This is a really fun listen replete with gee-whiz factoids I can’t stop relating to my friends. The connections between the three different assassinations discussed here are expecially fascinating.

Vowell’s patriotism is also inspiring. The devotion to country that lead Ms. Vowell to complete this homage to fallen presidents gives “Assassination Vacation” a genuine sweetness completely different from the my-country-right-or-wrong saccharine so popular in today’s political climate. Ms. Vowell’s sort of patriotism–the kind that visits the Dry Tortugas to learn more about our nation’s history, the kind that recognizes our country’s failings rather than whitewashing them, the kind that loves America both for what it stands for and for what it really is–this is the kind of love for country we need more of, not the facile nationalism that confuses what is and what ought to be.