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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"There's got to be something wrong with somebody who'd do a thing like that." This is Perry Edward Smith, talking about himself. "Deal me out, baby...I'm a normal." This is Richard Eugene Hickock, talking about himself. They're as sick a pair as Leopold and Loeb and together they killed a mother, a father, a pretty 17-year-old and her brother, none of whom they'd seen before, in cold blood. A couple of days before they had bought a 100 foot rope to garrote them—enough for ten people if necessary. This small pogrom took place in Holcomb, Kansas, a lonesome town on a flat, limitless landscape: a depot, a store, a cafe, two filling stations, 270 inhabitants. The natives refer to it as "out there." It occurred in 1959 and Capote has spent five years, almost all of the time which has since elapsed, in following up this crime which made no sense, had no motive, left few clues—just a footprint and a remembered conversation. Capote's alternating dossier Shifts from the victims, the Clutter family, to the boy who had loved Nancy Clutter, and her best friend, to the neighbors, and to the recently paroled perpetrators: Perry, with a stunted child's legs and a changeling's face, and Dick, who had one squinting eye but a "smile that works." They had been cellmates at the Kansas State Penitentiary where another prisoner had told them about the Clutters—he'd hired out once on Mr. Clutter's farm and thought that Mr. Clutter was perhaps rich. And this is the lead which finally broke the case after Perry and Dick had drifted down to Mexico, back to the midwest, been seen in Kansas City, and were finally picked up in Las Vegas. The last, even more terrible chapters, deal with their confessions, the law man who wanted to see them hanged, back to back, the trial begun in 1960, the post-ponements of the execution, and finally the walk to "The Corner" and Perry's soft-spoken words—"It would be meaningless to apologize for what I did. Even inappropriate. But I do. I apologize." It's a magnificent job—this American tragedy—with the incomparable Capote touches throughout. There may never have been a perfect crime, but if there ever has been a perfect reconstruction of one, surely this must be it.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 1965

ISBN: 0375507906

Page Count: 343

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1965

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