Rated Reads

Assassination Vacation

by Sarah Vowell

Rated: Moderate

This girl can ramble. Every conceivable topic associated with the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley is scrutinized, in no particular order, and in varying levels of detail. The creepiest parts are the little threads that continue to intertwine through the lives of persons related to the players in these three dramas.

The master of the run-on sentence, Sarah Vowell describes her explorations into the characters and places that feature in the three chosen assassination events. These experiences are liberally peppered with her personal views, political thoughts, and reactions of her 3-year-old nephew, Owen. Although not technically a dry book, it can be difficult to keep up with the lane changes and gear shifting as she speeds along the freeway of executioner examination.

The section about the Oneida group of the late 1880s may be a challenge for certain sensitive readers, but the author does not throw her sexual terms about in shocking fashion. She uses proper medical terminology to describe some unique facets of the organization, but it is not sordid, just straightforward.

The section on Lincoln is the longest, taking up nearly half the text, and the author continues to refer to many of the details of that discussion as she continues with Garfield and McKinley. I was hoping for a more neatly wrapped ending on exactly why this is the case, but it was not to be. In fact, I felt the ending of the book was a bit abrupt, almost as though she just ran out of things to say and stopped writing. She did such an interesting job of weaving this tapestry, that I honestly hoped there was going to be a really cool summation.

Anyone interested in United States history will enjoy this book, even with the smattering of personal commentary. Vowell plays the historian part well, and the fascinating details she uncovers are well worth the time invested to read this work.

Rated: Moderate. The language is not overly coarse, and there are no instances of truly vulgar terms. Of the 32 instances of foul language, 11 are quotes of historical figures, and 15 are very mild language. In addition to the Oneida section, there is a slightly off-color metaphorical description comparing a geological landmark to a woman’s breast.

— Reviewed by Craig Smith

Craig Smith is chief medical officer of Tacoma Cat Hospital. In addition to providing book reviews on Rated Reads, he podcasts about feline health issues through iTunes and www.tacomacat.com.

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  • Assassination Vacation
  • by Sarah Vowell
  • Rated: Moderate
  • Genre: Nonfiction
  • Reviewer: