Assassination Vacation

Assassination Vacation

Book - 2005
Average Rating:
Rate this:
Sarah Vowell exposes the glorious conundrumsof American history and culture with wit, probity, and an irreverent sense of humor. WithAssassination 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 all kinds of lighter diversions along the way into the lives of the three presidents and their assassins, including mummies, show tunes, mean-spirited totem poles, and a nineteenth-century biblical sex cult.
Publisher: New York : Simon & Schuster, c2005.
ISBN: 9780743260039
Branch Call Number: 973.099 VOWELL S
Characteristics: 258 pages : illustrations ; 23 cm.


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment
Nov 03, 2020

I learned so much history from this book and laughed so so much. As unlikely a thing as this is to say, it's a hilarious book about presidential assassinations. Also a bit of a memoir.
Vowell blends all of this together wonderfully.

Nov 01, 2020

Sarah Vowell manages to take a very serious subject and discuss it in a delightful, humorous way, exploring how the United States views the Presidents who were assassinated in office, if they view them at all. Very interesting and fun read!

Jun 16, 2020

I learned so much from this book, and I also laughed really hard. Sarah Vowell provides an amazing blend of historical facts and amusing anecdotes. I especially appreciated the sections about Garfield and McKinley since I knew almost nothing about them. I'm going to recommend this book to everyone I know who has even a vague interest in history. Definitely the funniest book about assassination that I have ever read!

Nov 12, 2019

American history tends to sanctify and sanitize reality, becoming somewhat bland and repetitive in the process. Sarah Vowell's great gift is to look at that same stock history and find the foibles of the real people involved, the hilarious absurdities of messy reality, and to make American history light and fun. In this book she examines not at the lives of three great American Presidents, but instead finds just as much insight into Americana in the lives of the three men who assassinated those Presidents.

DPL_Graham Nov 30, 2018

When I told my friends I was reading a “funny” book called Assassination Vacation they all screwed up their faces, gave me an odd look, and asked “How can a book about presidential assassinations be funny?” You wouldn’t think it’s possible but Sarah Vowell is the master of taking a serious topic and finds dark humor and witty observations everywhere. Sarah explores three presidential assassinations (Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley) and their assassins in detail.

Through her work, American history is brought to life and the sea of names, dates, and places starts to part and let us see the true people and actions involved in each event. In her unique style, Vowell simultaneously travels around the country exploring, touching, and getting seasick at related plaques, monuments, roadside attractions, and spots where old banks used to stand. Each trip on her vacation helps us understand the assassinations.

Vowell unique voice, depth of knowledge, and humor brings the past and present together in a wonderful cacophony. Even if you aren’t a huge fan of history this book is highly recommended. Vowell has stated that her goal is to “to talk to my country about what my country is like” and this is yet another huge success by this multi-talented author and performer.

SPPL_János Mar 14, 2018

Vowell drags her reluctant family, friends, and any stranger who will listen to her into the macabre history of the first three U.S. presidential assassinations. Her unseemly passion for historical plaques and offbeat museums illuminates the tragic ends of Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, and William McKinley and the disturbing individuals who thought to overturn the will of the American electorate. From the museum display of Lincoln's skull fragments to the desert island prison of John Wilkes Booth's coconspirators to a Nineteenth Century free love commune, Vowell turns up endless tidbits and uncanny connections. It's less a linear travelogue and more a whirlwind of fascinating trivia and black humor with a gleefully obsessed hostess.

Sep 04, 2017

Love this book, and now Sarah.

I have seen her on Letterman and The Daily Show over the years, and enjoyed her interviews, but just never read one of her books. I guess I thought they'd be "too intellectual".

Boy was I wrong.

It is about 3 assassinations - Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley which I found very informative and very enjoyable. So much so, that she's inspired me to read more on Garfield and McKinley.

She's very entertaining and makes the topic sound interesting. I'm really ignorant on presidents and US history, but she's inspired me to be in awe of James A. Garfield.
UPDATE: Sarah has inspired a new love of American History. As of Sept 2, I have read or listened to 203 books, probably 99% history/non fiction. Thanks, Sarah!

Jun 13, 2017

The author, Sarah Vowell, would herself make for an interesting study. Describing herself as “more of a Ten Commandments, rule-of-law girl” compared to the anarchist-inspired Emma Goldman, one may wonder otherwise, considering the subjects of this book: Assassinated U.S. Presidents.

I didn’t know what to expect when I picked this up. I’d so enjoyed another of her titles that I wanted to read more of Vowell’s material. Here, she recounts the killings of Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, and William McKinley. Her recounting the days, hours and moments both before and after their deaths are written as if she is in conversation with the reader, providing her first-person accounts of visiting the sites of each killing, plus other landmarks and memorial to each victim, plus the killers themselves.

This is not a dry read. Its colour comes through her own present-day thoughts about these historical moments while travelling – usually in the company of a friend, as Vowell doesn’t drive – around the U.S. to these monuments and landmarks of history. I recommend this to readers who wish to avoid the hoity-toitiness of textbook-like reading or material steeped in partisan politics.

Radharc May 06, 2017

A "light" look at three presidential assassinations and what went on behind the scenes of each one. Chock full of interesting trivia, this trip down some of America's darker days is a worthy read.

Jun 19, 2016

This is an easy-to-read history of three presidential assassinations. Fun history!

View All Comments


Add Age Suitability

There are no ages for this title yet.


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at LPL

To Top