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Saturday, September 19, 2015

Non-fiction book about the plot to steal Lincoln's body

Craughwell, Thomas J. (2007) Stealing Lincoln's Body  Cambridge:  Harvard University Press



Opening Lines:  "At 7:22 in the morning of April 15, 1865, a twenty-three-year-old United States Army surgeon felt the last tremor of life leave the body of Abraham Lincoln."

This blog generally contains reviews of the best Young Adult Literature i can find, so what am I doing reviewing a non-fiction book that was written for adults.  Well, it turns out that some young adult readers like non-fiction, and some of them don't seem to pay much attention tot he boundaries that publishers set between different ages of readers.  Also, this is a honking good book that high school students interested in history, crime, crime-fighting, Abraham Lincoln, or good stories would absolutely love.

Craughwell starts off with a prologue that describes Lincoln's last days and the funeral train that toured the country to unprecedented crowds, and then the debate that began about where Abraham Lincoln.  But things get even more interesting when we start to read about the men who hatched a plot to steal Lincoln's body from the cemetery where he was interred in Springfield, Illinois, and hold his body hostage until the government released one of the most accomplished counterfeiters ever from the jail in Joliet, Illinois.  Along the way we find out about the history of counterfeit money in the US, the huge part it played in the civil war, the creation of the Secret Service (authorized by President Lincoln the day before he was assassinated, and the bizarre story of how Lincoln's body was buried in a basement under a pile of lumber for many years, its location known only to a secret society of trustees.

Craughwell doesn't write in a overly-academic style, so his prose is accessible for interested high school readers, but some of the vocabulary may stretch them just a little bit.  Craughwell is a historian and does a really nice job of contextualizing the events of the book, explaining the sources for his assertions, and questioning facts that are uncertain, but he does so in a way that is interesting and not off-putting in the least.

I have to give my oldest daughter credit for finding this book. She spotted it while on a National Close-Up trip to Washington DC.  It think it would be a fine addition to both high school history classrooms and any high school classroom library hoping to provide a variety of books that might interest young readers.  

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