An unusual look at the conspiracy to kill Lincoln from the perspective of the only woman plotter.



The life and trial of the first woman to be executed by the federal government.

President Andrew Johnson refused to commute the death sentence of widow and mother Mary Surratt for her role in the Lincoln conspiracy, consigning her to the gallows as the one who “kept the nest that hatched the egg.” Already brutalized by four years of civil war and wild with rage at Lincoln’s murder, the country had little sympathy for the boardinghouse keeper—that is, until her hanging. Her grisly execution shocked the nation’s conscience, disturbing settled notions about feminine decorum. Was her trial a sham? Was her conviction a result of anti-Catholic bias? Was she wrongly turned in by witnesses looking to diminish their own intimacy with her co-conspirators? Larson (History/Simmons Coll.; Bound For the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman: Portrait of an American Hero, 2003) clearly establishes that “Mary Surratt was not only guilty, but was far more involved in the plot than many historians have given her credit for.” Born in Maryland, Mary Jenkins converted early to Catholicism and at 16 married 26-year-old John Surratt, an abusive alcoholic who died in 1862, leaving her a townhouse on H Street in Washington, D.C. Through her son John Jr., a Confederate courier, she met the charismatic John Wilkes Booth. Young Surratt recruited a number of accomplices for Booth’s dramatic plan, originally to kidnap, then to kill the president. At every step, it appears Surratt was deeply complicit. She ran innumerable errands for Booth, ferried weapons, hosted him and other plotters at the H Street house, covered for them at every opportunity, uttered ominous warnings to intimates about what was to happen and lied about it to investigators afterwards. Haughty and arrogant upon arrest, she remained a cool prisoner under harsh conditions. Tried before a military tribunal rather than a civil court—a controversial decision Larson appears to endorse—where rules prevented her from testifying on her own behalf and where she was ineptly represented, Surratt finally broke down under the stress. Although the author never quite brings Surratt to life, Larson settles all doubt as to the justness of the verdict against this most unlikely criminal.

An unusual look at the conspiracy to kill Lincoln from the perspective of the only woman plotter.

Pub Date: June 9, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-465-03815-2

Page Count: 254

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2008

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.



Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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