Apparently I’ve been on a U.S. presidents kick. Just the other day I realized that I have read four books about U.S. presidents so far this year. Three of them have been about assassinations. A friend recommended O’Reilly’s books on Lincoln and Kennedy so I decided to give them a try. Since I really enjoyed Candice Millard’s books about James Garfield and Teddy Roosevelt, I decided it would be good to delve into more presidential stories.
It might be an understatement to say that Millard’s writing style is very different from O’Reilly’s. I have not seen many O’Reilly television shows but I’ve seen enough to recognize his overall style. Although Millard’s books are factually based, they read more like literature. O’Reilly’s books are interesting and fast-paced but read more like news reporting.
Of O’Reilly’s two books on presidential assassinations I’m not sure which one I liked better. I felt like I knew the basic stories of both presidents but there were also a lot of historical facts and new stories I learned along the way.
And, it definitely is uncanny to think about how many similarities the two assassinations share.
Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot seemed like it was a little too chronological. I thought it would have been more interesting had it not been laid out so sequentially. Kennedy was a very complicated, flawed, gifted man. Many details of his life are compelling and his presidency occurred during a historically significant time in America’s civil rights movement.
Toward the end of the Kennedy book I felt my heart beating faster, as his life’s story came to a close. My sympathies went out to Jackie as I read about her scooping her husband’s brains off the car.
One huge disappointment: I wish the conspiracy theories surrounding Kennedy’s perplexing assassination were explored in this book. There are so many inconsistencies in the details of his assassination. Killing Kennedy was definitely a just-the-facts-ma’am type of book, but I found myself wanting more. I understand the simple truth is that we can speculate but we will likely never know the full scope of why JFK was assassinated or if there was a larger plot involved. But it would have made the book more compelling to have the conflicting theories and controversies spelled out.
Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination that Changed American Forever opens during the closing battles of the American Civil War. I thought it was fascinating to read about the final conflicts and the beleaguered players involved, including General Lee’s humbling surrender to General Grant.
I was surprised that this book didn’t cover more of Lincoln’s life prior to his presidency. Kennedy’s book covered more details of his life prior to his presidential ascension. Kennedy’s book also covered a lot more about his wife. Although, I definitely think people would rather read about Jackie Kennedy than Mary Lincoln any day. So, I get that!
Lincoln was brilliant, compassionate, and a man of integrity. Reading about the violent and abrupt ending to his life was very sad. I kept wondering how much better our country could have healed if Lincoln had lived. The book definitely painted a clear picture of the tensions and desperation in our country during and after the Civil War.
The manhunt for Lincoln’s assassin in rural Maryland and Virginia, and details of the larger plot to assassinate Lincoln’s VP and Secretary of State, were also interesting.
The best quote from these two O’Reilly’s books (taken from the Kennedy book) is when O’Reilly detours from his factual reporting and waxes poetic:
“Most people live their lives as if the end were always years away. They measure their days in love, laughter, accomplishment, and loss. There are moments of sunshine and storm. There are schedules, phone calls, careers, anxieties, joys, exotic trips, favorite foods, romance, shame, and hunger. A person can be defined by clothing, the smell of his breath, the way she combs her hair, the shape of his torso, or even the company she keeps. All over the world, children love their parents and yearn for love in return. They revel in the touch of parental hands on their faces. And even on the worst of days, each person has dreams about the future-dreams that sometimes come true. Such is life. Yet life can end in less time than it takes to draw one breath.”
Kennedy and Lincoln both helped to hold America together during times of crisis. It was intriguing to read about their short but influential lives, their tragic deaths, and the intense manhunts for their murderers.