Assasination Vacation

Assasination Vacation

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When the topic comes to presidential assassins, most people will not use the word amusing and assassins in the same sentence; however; Dan Danbom, a reporter for the Rocky Mountain News, proved otherwise and stated that Vowell has succeeded in creating a “humorous” historical context by writing “I can confidently say that Sarah Vowel’s Assassination Vacation is the most amusing book you’ll read this year about presidential assassinations” (Danbom). Sarah Vowel’s purpose of Assassination Vacation is to allow readers to have a look at both sides of history to shed light on the assassins, to reanimate moments lost to history, and to make her book more interesting by using her unique style of writing; although she fails miserably by adding in too much humor and too many personal opinions, she was successful by examining the motive of the assassins, giving analysis to allow readers to look at past and present events, and by using her interesting style of writing to engage readers to continue reading the story.

In Assassination Vacation, Vowell is successful for her attempt to shed lights on the assassins by examining the motive of the assassins. Most people would straight ahead consider assassinating a president as bad; however, what about tyrants? John Wilkes Booth, the assassination of President Lincoln, shouted “Sic simper tyrannis” ( Vowell 71) after he jumped from the Presidents box to the stage---obviously proving that Lincoln is a tyrant in his mind. When Lincoln gave the speech on reconstruction, Booth said to Powell, “That means nigger citizenship. Now, by god, I will put him through. That will be the last speech he will ever make” (Vowell 30). Lincoln was obviously performing the acts and setting laws that Booth doesn’t like, just like how tyrants may set rules that are unreasonable to most. Vowell also succeeds by examining the motives of Charles J. Guiteau, the man who was responsible for Garfield’s death. Vowell examined the motives of Guiteau and thought that he was insane when she said “Where did Guiteau get his insane notions” (Vowell 170) because the reason that he killed Garfield was because God told him to; however, Vowell also looked at Guiteau’s side and talked about Garfield being “the victim of his own party rhetoric of exaggerating a Democratic victory into a matter of life and death” (Vowell 170). Looking at both side of the assassination gives

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the reader the normal idea that everyone has---the idea that whatever the assassins had in mind were wrong and that assassination the president was a wrong doing that could not be condoned as well as the side of the assassins; which looks into how they think and the reasons they do it for.

Vowell was successful in terms of reanimating the moments that are lost to history by rummaging around for historical artifacts that have survived, passed on, and been saved from the moments of the assassination. Vowell traveled from Philadelphia to New York to examine the specimens of Booth and Guiteau, where she asked the curator how the museum came into possession of Booth’s remnants (Vowell.94). Vowell then found out from Worden, the museum’s director, that the “Piece of the thorax of John Wilkes Booth” could not have came from the thorax after she performed an autopsy by herself (Vowell 94). By saving this piece of Booth, it allows later examination to reexamine what part of body part this actually is. Saving a piece of the body, such as the brain, of the assassin also allows later testing to be able to find out something that couldn’t have been tested out before. “…It was suggested at one point that he might be suffering from neurosyphilis, at the time they really didn’t have good ways of examining tissue, or proving it. We now do. Having the tissue allows you to go back in and ask new questions of old specimens” (Vowell 95).Vowell thinks that by saving a piece of the body allows future testing to figure out something that could not be figured out with the technology at that time. Vowell is successful in reanimating the moments that are lost to history by reexamination and analyzing about the historical artifacts that have been passed on from before.

Vowell is successful in using her unique style of writing to engage the readers to continue reading. Most historical nonfiction books only give tedious and boring facts. Although Vowell also gives the readers a lot of facts, she tells the events in a story line, trying to simulate what happened as if we were actually there. When Vowell talked about the preparation to visit Mudd’s house “…and old article from the Washington Post travel section, directions from carious locals gassing up their cars, and six printouts from MapQuest.com, are lost for two hours” (Vowell 77). Vowell uses her own traveling experience to entertain and guide the reader on a "road trip" instead of just a historical walk through of what happened. This allows the reader to pay more attention because it certainly feels like one is on a road trip instead of just reading a didactic book at home. Vowell also gives interesting details about events that happened in order to entertain the readers while reading. While including historical facts, Vowell also includes some random details here and there (such as the history of the Mudd family).These unique style of writing a book with historical content allows Vowell to break through the traditional idea of a dull and monotonous historical nonfiction and to keep the readers focus and even continue reading.

In Assassination Vacation, although Sarah Vowell succeeds in shedding lights on the assassins and making her history book more entertaining by using her unique style of writing, Vowell fails miserably by adding in too many unrelated facts about herself, humor and personal opinions. On page 137, when Vowell is talking about her teapot, she ramps off about herself “…my happy yellow teapot has a kinky backstory involving a nineteenth-century vegetarian sex cult in upstate New York whose members lived for three decades…”. Vowell started talking about her teapot with no historical context related to the presidential assassinations. Also, when Vowell was talking about Mudd’s family, she diverged off to talk about the grandfather paradox. “The grandfather paradox poses this riddle: What if…thereby ensuring that the granddaughter herself would never be born?” (Vowell 63). Although this topic is still relevant to what Vowell’s main subject was---the Mudd family, Vowell digresses off to talk about her own great-great-grandfather, which has nothing to do with the historical context of the Lincoln Assassination.

One last example of how Vowell changes her subject to the irrelevance is when she talked about the ways to preserve body after death, “But now there are so many more possibilities: freeze-drying, which…don’t know that I can justify my obsession” (Vowell 97). Vowell include these unimportant information which makes her book less like a scholarly attempting nonfiction. Readers who are only looking for the historical context may be baffled and annoyed by her attempt to comment and make fun of every fact. Just like how Greg Beato said, “At times, though, she’s too much the stand-up comedian, determined to punctuate every fact she exhumes with a verbal elbow in the ribs, even when the material would be better served without such efforts”( Beato). History should be based on facts. Although people have different opinions about events throughout history, it should be a more factual description on events that actually happened. Vowell added her own opinion and comments on every single detail throughout the book, trying to instill her opinion into the minds of readers. Her act defeats the purpose of writing a historically based non-fiction.

Although many critics, such as Greg Beato, may comment that “but if Vowell really believes that her obsessions are so singular, so monumentally boring to anyone else but her, why is she inflicting them on her readers”( Beato), other made comments such as “but just when you think she may be straying from her mission, she always comes back to a fundamental love of history and fascination with its characters, sharing with us her pilgrimage to that past that gives her ‘a small, pleasant buzz to amble around and watch the city come alive with forgotten men’” (Danbom). I agree with Danbom about how Vowell, even though sometimes digressing off to other unrelated subjects, still completed her goal---shedding light on the assassins, reanimating moments lost to history, and making her book more interesting by using her unique style of writing.
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