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A Wholly Reluctant Blog

A blog by someone who prefers writing to writing about writing, but treats blogging like bad-tasting vitamins.

Currently reading

The Phantom Tollbooth
Jules Feiffer, Norton Juster
Walter Scott
Cloud Atlas
David Mitchell
Ishmael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit
Daniel Quinn
Bulfinch's Mythology
Thomas Bulfinch
Stars in Their Courses: The Gettysburg Campaign, June-July 1863
Shelby Foote
A History of Mathematics, Second Edition
Carl B. Boyer, Isaac Asimov
Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination that Changed America Forever - Martin Dugard, Bill O'Reilly PREFACE
As a person who is generally curious about historical events and the people involved in them, a book on Lincoln's assassination is something that piqued my interest. How did I discover this book amidst a sea of noise? Did its merits cause it to rise above the rest, standing head and shoulders above other historical works, nay, other books, nay to that too, other random gatherings of paper? I suppose that's possible, but it probably helped that Bill O'Reilly has his own television show where he can hawk his wares ad nauseum--I don't watch The O'Reilly Factor often, or any "news opinion" programs, but the guy always seems to be saying "Buy my book! Buy my coffee cup! Buy this pen! Buy this hairpiece! Buy this shamwow!" and shaking his wares at you.

The O'Mays Factor

In truth, it's a book owned by my in-laws, and something I could get for free. My only misgiving about the book was that it was produced by a media personality rather than a historian, but for all I know O'Reilly was a college history major He was! An honors student with a BA in History. and spends his free time gorging himself on historical documents.

It was inevitable that O'Reilly would produce something that interested me. Really. Inevitable. Eventually, if you have an infinite number of Bill O'Reillys and an infinite number of products, one is going to interest me. If it wasn't a book (about something other than himself or politics), it would have been a line of tools, or pet grooming shampoo, or a Cold War themed RTS in which THE USA CANNOT LOSE UNLESS THEY ARE DESTROYED FROM WITHIN BY SOCIALISTS.

As a sensible person, I decided to do some research to determine if this was something I could enjoy. I do that, even when I think I'll like something, often to confirm my bias, other times to my chagrin. This was one of the other times.

The book is apparently a good read. All due credit to Bill O'Reilly, since he is the brand that people want to buy, but the text is probably a product of co-author, Martin Dugard. It's fast-paced, it's intriguing, and it's well written--everyone seems to agree on that. If you want something similar, look no further than Rubicon, by quasi-historian Tom Holland, who has degrees in English and Latin, but no history degrees. Granted, Holland's books tend to provide an orgy of bibliographical sources.

Though there are a few conspicuous differences between the work produced by O'Reilly and Holland, it turns out the main difference is a pretty significant one: research ethic. One of these writers has an issue with knuckling down over some primary sources. Hint: the theme of his television show could be misunderstood as symptomatic of a clothes dryer in need of maintenance.

The bulk of the reviews for the book are quite positive. However, the tone of the positive reviews, and their feverish positivity, as well as the negative reviews and their equally zealous negativity, pretty well cancel out. What's left are those middling reviews from people who know about the topic and are looking for a fresh take. The tone of those reviews is, frankly, a disappointment. What's entertaining is that many positive reviews appear to be a response to the lukewarm reviews. The unsettling theme for anyone genuinely interested in history is, to paraphrase, "facts aren't important in a history book if it's entertaining. Besides, all history books have errors told me the book was well written and he will add it to his library of Bill O'Reilly books."

"Having heard some good reviews of he book, I was surprised to find it as good as it was."

"I liked this book so much I asked some of my students to read it."