Summary

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
©2005 Sarah Vowell (P)2005 Simon & Schuster Inc. AUDIOWORKS is an imprint of Simon & Schuster Audio Division, Simon & Schuster, Inc.
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Critic reviews



2005 Audie Award Nominee, Multi-Voiced Performance
2005 Publishers Weekly Listen Up Award, Humor
"Vowell has a perspective on American history that is definitely funny." (School Library Journal)
"Wacky, weirdly enthralling....This is history at its most morbid and most fascinating and, fortunately, one needn't share Vowell's interest in the macabre to thoroughly enjoy this unusual tour." (Publishers Weekly)
"An engaging tour....Audiobook listeners get serious bang for their buck, including guest appearances by Stephen King (as Lincoln), Jon Stewart, Conan O'Brien, and Eric Bogosian, among others." (AudioFile)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By Amazon Customer on 03-08-14

A lovely story about assassination and family

What did you like most about Assassination Vacation?

The little details.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Assassination Vacation?

Robert Todd Lincoln rejuvenating the life of the brother of the murderer of the his father.

Which scene did you most enjoy?

See above

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

Robert Todd Lincoln's fear of presidential death

Any additional comments?

These are lovely books telling a story we only hear mentioned.

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1 out of 5 stars
By G. Evans on 12-06-11

Hard to follow...

I really bought this for the grim but light hearted look on the history of presidential assasinations that this book promised as well as the fact that it has many famous narrators. Unfortunately the main narrator has a very distinctive voice which after a while, and bearing in mind this might just be me, but it does begin to grate a little. In fact after a about 5 hours i found that i could not concentrate on the audio because of how her voice comes across. Also, unless your listening really hard you do miss most of the other voices of the other people - theres no announcement they just come in say there bit and then disappear. I also felt that many of the wacky anecdotes seemed to be crushed together with no split or pause between them and i never knew which president she was referring to and at what time. I may have to give this another listen as I was fairly interested in the topic but for now my rating remains at a low one star :(

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1 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
4 out of 5 stars
By Rachel on 17-08-05

extremely entertaining and informative

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.

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33 of 35 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By Michael Harrison on 02-08-05

Quirky and Enchanting

I can see how Sarah Vowell's voice may seem grating, but I suppose years of hearing her pieces on "This American Life" has conditioned me to expect greatness whenever I hear it.

This book isn't any different. It reminds me a great deal of some of those bits on "TAL" dealing with historic figures (Lafayette was a recent one). Her obsession with Presidential assassinations is cleverly portrayed in her well-crafted writing style, and her narration is dead-on.

Any complaints about Vowell's "Bush-bashing" should be taken very lightly. She takes a few jabs at our current President, but only to make a few points about the arrogance of assassins... people who deign to make the decision for the country on whether or not a given person is suitable to lead us. I think she raises a very valid point by bringing up Dubya.

A pleasure to listen to, thanks in no small part to Vowell's group of buddies lending narrative variety to our country's cast of characters. Particular kudos to Brad Bird for his funny-but-creepy readings of Charles Guiteau's gallows-poetry.

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27 of 30 people found this review helpful

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