The Lincoln assassination in fact, fiction, and counter-factual fiction

Two books I’m reading, and a short story I read a while back, deal with elements of President Lincoln’s assassination.

Worst Seat in the House: Henry Rathbone’s Front Row View of the Lincoln Assassination by Caleb Stephens explores the life of Major Henry Rathbone, who sat in the box at Ford’s Theater the night Lincoln was shot and grappled with the assassin. I’ve only browsed in the book so far, but Stephens clearly believes Rathbone suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after the incident. LATER: I don’t recommend the book. It’s poorly written and full of speculation. However, it did introduce me to a historical fact I didn’t know: later in life Rathbone murdered his wife and spent his final years in an insane asylum.

The First Assassin by John Miller offers a fictional secret-history account of an attempt on Lincoln’s life early in his presidency. LATER: Excellent book, especially for a first novel. Only two issues grated me, both slight. First, the slave characters’ speech slips back and forth between educated, modern-sounding speech and an attempt to reproduce how most slaves probably really talked. Also, the writer makes some basic mistakes on how firearms of the period worked . . . basic to an enthusiast, I mean.

Murder at Ford’s Theater” by Bob Conroy (not to be confused with Margaret Truman’s novel of the same name, which doesn’t deal with the Lincoln assassination) explores an alternate-history scenario: Lincoln survives the assassination attempt, but things do not go well in consequence.


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