Exemplary scholarship and deep feelings shape this portrait of the Booth family, a worthy successor to the author's Lee and Grant and his other well-received historical biographies. As events unfold against a wonderfully detailed evocation of the 19th century, Junius Brutus thrills audiences with his portrayals of Shakespeare's King Lear and Richard III, despite his notorious madness. His equally gifted sons were totally different from their father and each other. A great actor, Edwin could barely utter a word offstage; he was painfully depressed and afraid he too might lose his mind. John Wilkes seems to have been sane: a handsome man beloved by women, gregarious, popular, as admired as Edwin in certain roles. When Robert E. Lee surrendered, however, John's commitment to the Southern cause turned his thoughts to revenge, culminating in his assassination of President Lincoln. In vivid detail Smith reveals the murder's dreadful impact on the Booths and numerous others, mostly innocent victims of a tragedy Shakespeare might have written. Illustrations not seen by PW. First serial to American Heritage; Reader's Digest Condensed Books selection. (Sept.)
Told with all the color, pathos, and drama of a Shakespearean tragedy, this is the tale of the Booth family, which counted among its members some of the finest American actors of the 19th century as well as the first assassin of a U.S. president. Noted and notorious, the Booths are important figures not only in the history of the American theater but in the history of America itself. At times, their lives offstage eclipse their dramatic roles. Junius, the father, was an acclaimed Shakespearean actor plagued by insanity; son Edwin portrayed Hamlet 100 times (a record broken only by Lionel Barrymore) and constantly feared that he might inherit his father's affliction; and son John, handsome and flamboyant, performed his most dramatic role as Lincoln's killer. Historical, theatrical, and biographical details abound in this worthy addition to any theater or history collection.-- Carolyn M. Mulac, Chicago P.L.
The assassin who ended Lincoln's life on Good Friday, 1865, did more than change the course of history; John W. Booth's crime forever changed the lives of his own relatives and his victim's. Mary Lincoln never overcame her grief. The presidential guest that night, Rathbone, forever reproached himself for failing to foil the murderer, and he soon lost his mind and killed his wife. The details of the incident in Ford's Theatre, on the level of the real personages involved, bespoke the hand of fate or Providence--or that is how those personages in that deeply religious "and" Shakespearean era perceived it. For the Booths were the premier Macbeths, Richard IIIs, and Hamlets in an age when Bardolotry hit its popular peak. Why not be a Brutus and attain eternal fame? The mawkish theatricality of John W.'s act (and indeed the whole of his short life) suggests this was his intent, but writer Smith deftly holds back his opinions in this superb tactile presentation of the Booth family drama. One can almost touch the eccentricity of partiarch Junius, the calmer stolidity of son Edwin, the wastrel wanderings of son John W. Having journeyed himself through the extant writings on this family and Lincoln's last days, Smith presents a skillfully sutured synthesis that might bring the inamorata of theater and history into a rare reading alliance.