Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell

Genre: Non-Fiction
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: 2005
Read by: Sarah Vowell
Source: Library

The Short Version:
A fascinating and at the same time hilarious tour through the first three Presidential assassinations and the people and places connected to them.

Why I Read It:
It was this review at S. Krishna’s Books that convinced me to request this audiobook from the library. It sounded like just the thing for The Hubster and I to listen to on our road trip to Southern Oregon.

The Book:
I can’t possibly begin to summarize this book so I’m going to post the publisher’s description.

Sarah Vowell exposes the glorious conundrums of American history and culture with wit, probity, and an irreverent sense of humor. With Assassination Vacation, she takes us on a road trip like no other — a journey to the pit stops of American political murder and through the myriad ways they have been used for fun and profit, for political and cultural advantage.

From Buffalo to Alaska, Washington to the Dry Tortugas, Vowell visits locations immortalized and influenced by the spilling of politically important blood, reporting as she goes with her trademark blend of wisecracking humor, remarkable honesty, and thought-provoking criticism. We learn about the jinx that was Robert Todd Lincoln (present at the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley) and witness the politicking that went into the making of the Lincoln Memorial. The resulting narrative is much more than an entertaining and informative travelogue — it is the disturbing and fascinating story of how American death has been manipulated by popular culture, including literature, architecture, sculpture, and — the author’s favorite — historical tourism. Though the themes of loss and violence are explored and we make detours to see how the Republican Party became the Republican Party, there are all kinds of lighter diversions along the way into the lives of the three presidents and their assassins, including mummies, show tunes, mean-spirited totem poles, and a nineteenth-century biblical sex cult.

My Thoughts:
Let me put it this way. The day after we finished listening to this, I logged on the library website and requested two more of Sarah Vowell’s audiobooks. She reads them herself and that’s the only way they would work. She’s a regular contributor to NPR’s This American Life, so it’s perfect for her to read her own books.

This was just pure enjoyable listening. I loved the mixture of well known history, obscure facts and tidbits and the author’s asides.

The historical facts are fascinating and the verbal side trips the author takes while telling the story are also fascinating and often laugh out loud funny. It’s helped along by her deadpan delivery and voice (she voiced the teenage daughter in The Incredibles). The dry wit and delivery had us laughing so much at times that I had to back up the ipod because we’d missed something.

It was fun to learn some interesting tidbits of history as well as thoroughly entertaining listening. I’m now a fan of this historic tourism thing as told by Sarah Vowell.

The audiobook is abridged and while I normally avoid abridged audiobooks like the plague, I had been assured that it was still enjoyable and it also appears to be the only audio version available.

Rating 4.5/5