by Julie HaleFebruary, 2006
Vowell, a National Public Radio personality and acclaimed author of The Partly Cloudy Patriot, adds an unforgettable chapter to the annals of American history with Assassination Vacation. Embarking on a very peculiar journey, she travels around the country on a tour of sites connected with the assassinations of presidents Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield and William McKinley. It's a road trip of disparate destinations, including Key West, Washington, D.C., and Alaska. In many cases, the murder scenes have become tourist attractions, and on her stops at these morbid locales, Vowell reflects on the nature of the crimes and the killers who committed them—individuals who rose from obscurity to achieve notoriety and leave a permanent imprint on the national culture. Whether visiting the Oneida Colony, a commune in upstate New York, in order to better understand the man who killed Garfield, or retracing the footsteps of Lincoln's plotters, Vowell links the past with the present in a way that's provocative and insightful, providing cogent observations on American politics and the forces that might have motivated the assassins (McKinley's man was an anarchist, Garfield's a mentally ill attorney deeply involved with the Republican party). Filled with little-known facts and twisted bits of trivia, Vowell's latest book is an offbeat, oddly fascinating narrative.