Monday, October 03, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: Chasing Lincoln's Killer

Chasing Lincoln's Killer James L. Swanson

This book got so much good press when it came out and was even shortlisted for the YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction and all I can ask is WHY?!

Ok, I know why. It's an exciting read-- Swanson can certainly tell a story. But, it's also deeply, deeply flawed.

The biggest flaw? NO SOURCE NOTES. No citations, no bibliography, just an assurance from the author that everything inside quotation marks is really true. Let me repeat that-- NO SOURCE NOTES. Now, this is a teen version of Swanson's adult title, Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer. Manhunt has an 18 page bibliography and 24 pages of endnotes. Chasing Lincoln's Killer has none.

Other minor issues-- simplification to the point of being wrong. Maybe it was only this one point, but this is the only one I'm super sure on-- the 11th Street Bridge does NOT lead from DC to Maryland. It's in the middle of DC. I drive across it multiple times a day to get to and from work. Yes, it closed at 9pm and Booth and Herold had to talk their way across the bridge long after it closed. Swanson makes a huge deal because this was the bridge out of DC, this was the only way to get to Maryland. And... no. Crossing the bridge led to Southeast DC and was the easiest and fastest way to get to Maryland, but they were still in DC once they got to the other side and there are ways to get to Maryland that don't involve crossing the Anacostia River. And it's not like the Maryland borders of DC have changed since the city was first created. Yes, for Booth and Herold to escape Washington, crossing the bridge was of vital importance, BUT Swanson over simplifies it so much that it ends up being plain wrong. Even better? The map at the back of the book shows the bridge as being in the middle of town.

There was also some potential fictionalization. Swanson talks about Booth's mood, the tension he felt, and this thought process. Maybe there are sources for this, but I wouldn't know BECAUSE THERE WERE NO SOURCE NOTES.

He has another book, Bloody Times: The Funeral of Abraham Lincoln and the Manhunt for Jefferson Davis, which was nominated for a Cybil this year. It's another teen edition of an adult book, Bloody Crimes: The Funeral of Abraham Lincoln and the Chase for Jefferson Davis. Let's see if it's any better. I'm not holding my breath though, because the library and book community so celebrated Chasing Lincoln's Killer.


Today's nonfiction round up is over at 100 Scope Notes.


Book Provided by... the publisher, for Cybils 2009 consideration

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2 comments:

:paula said...

Ooh, thank you for this critique! I have to facilitate a YA book discussion that includes this book and I know I will read it with a more steely eye because of your observations - especially the thing about the bridge. Drives me crazy when people don't get the geography right.

Myra Garces-Bacsal from GatheringBooks said...

I love it, another snarky review! Hhaha. That is also one of the first things I look for when I read through a nonfiction material for children - I automatically gravitate towards Author Notes or bibliographical entries usually found at the end of the actual narrative - provides authenticity and an honoring of the entire research process (must be the academic in me speaking), but I'm glad you pointed out its flaws and some of what other people found to be its strengths. :)