This Is our Village

Thursday, November 15, 2012


Two quite different and very interesting books I've read recently are "Killing Lincoln," by Bill O'Reilly, and "The Road," by Jack London. The first, on the Best Seller list, was lent me by a friend, and the second I got for free on my Kindle--because it's in the public domain--by inputting "Free classics." Both are easy reads.

O'Reilly's book covers the remarkably short period of time from when John Wilkes Booth and his fellow conspirators began plotting four simultaneous assassinations, to when Booth was hunted down and shot. A great deal, described in fascinating detail, took place in these few days: General Grant and the Union forces finally cornered the ragtag Confederate army at Appomattox, where Lee, a military escape artist if there ever was one, surrendered to the most gracious terms imposed by Lincoln. Lincoln was reelected President. Booth and the conspirators plotted to kill not only Lincoln, but also Andrew Johnson, the Vice President; General Grant, who had become a close friend of Lincoln; and William Seward, the Secretary of State. Seward was very badly injured, but recovered and bought Alaska for the US. The book tells how the plans to kill Grant and Johnson both went awry. Booth, a glory-seeker, coveted public recognition for his "pro-Confederation" assassination deed, but failed at every turn to be so credited, beginning with his leap from Lincoln's box in the Ford Theater onto the stage, only nine feet below. He tripped on a curtain and fell, breaking a bone in his foot. The book  has you on the edge of your seat and gives you a perfect picture of what took place during those critical days.

I understand the Steven Spielberg movie on Lincoln, soon to come out, also has great reviews.

I had read many Jack London books but never "The Road." It's all about London's days as a hobo. A hobo is a tramp who rides the rails. You can't put this book down, it's so gripping. A standout chapter describes how he and the more agile hobos escaped being thrown off the trains time after time by outwitting the train personnel in different ways. They rode in the rail cars, sometimes under them (dangerous if you fell asleep), and very occasionally on top of them (also dangerous). Another chapter describes his 30-day stay in a penitentiary, again explaining how he and others used their wits to get by. He and his fellow hobos--there were hundreds of them in those days--crossed and re-crossed the US and Canada. They communicated with one another through messages sometimes written on water towers, and they almost made a fine art out of begging for food at their stops. It's all explained in this very interesting book.


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