May 18, 2005
I have been a fan of Sarah Vowell ever since I first heard her voice on NPR's This American Life, and this love has only been compounded by her witty essays. I had high expectations for Assassination Vacation, her exploration of the first three US presidential assassinations, and I was not disappointed.
Vowell is an American history buff, and this is clear as she crosses the country chasing tangents relating to the assassinations of presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley. The stories are told not only by the author, but also by her (sometimes unwilling) companions and the tour guides she encounters on the way. Vowell has a gift for eloquently telling a tale with empathy and insight, and along the way educates with stories that are intertwined, but off the beaten path of the average history book.
Before I read Assassination Vacation, several friends had remarked how funny the book was. I agree, I laughed out loud several times (and giggled all the way through), but the book is more than humorous. Vowell's love for history (and her country) are visible throughout the book, and she often draws parallels from the politics of the late 19th century to today's troubled times. Funny, interesting, insightful and educational, this book is highly recommended. Besides, anyone who compares Theodore Roosevelt to Paul Wolfowitz is aces in my book.
By the way, I picked up the audiobook of Assassination Vacation for my sister-in-law and her family, but have been listening it myself the past couple of days on my commute. I'm not much for audiobooks, but Vowell's reading is very entertaining. Plus, the supporting cast is amazing, including Conan O'Brien, Eric Bogosian, Stephen King, Dave Eggers, Jon Stewart, Tony Kushner, Daniel Handler and others.