Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell


This is a wonderfully funny pop-history book.  Sarah Vowell travels to every conceivable location with any connection to the three presidential assassinations:  Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley.  And along with the appealing travelogue, you get some history.  The odd fact is a specialty for her — for example, did you know that Robert Todd Lincoln, Lincoln's son, was present (or in the vicinity of) each of these assassinations?   Her descriptions of the politics of the day is explained in passages such as this one about McKinley, "Then, as now, optional wars are fought because there are people in the government who really, really want to fight them.  The Paul Wolfowitz of McKinley's first term, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt, was a part of a group of young wonks from various branches of the government who had been arguing that it was in the American interest to wrench Cuba from the clutches of Spain."

Her travelogues celebrate the local boosters, volunteer docents and afficianados of the unusual.  The town of Arcata, California has a statue of McKinley commissioned by a resident who had witnessed the president's 1901 speech.  It is the town mascot and sometimes sports a Santa hat, and once suffered the indignity of having its nose and ears stuffed with cheese.  The weekly paper's editor moved to the town, upon reading about such a weird activity.

Lincoln gets lots of attention, naturally, and the author is eloquent and touching in her descriptions of Lincoln, especially her visits to the Lincoln Memorial. 

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