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by Terry Alford

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Oxford University Press
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6.50(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.70(d)



With a single shot from a pistol small enough to conceal in his hand, John Wilkes Booth catapulted into history on the night of April 14, 1865. The assassination of President Abraham Lincoln stunned a nation that was just emerging from the chaos and calamity of the Civil War, and the president's untimely death altered the trajectory of postwar history. But to those who knew Booth, the event was even more shocking-for no one could have imagined that this fantastically gifted actor and well-liked man could commit such an atrocity.

In Fortune's Fool, Terry Alford provides the first comprehensive look at the life of an enigmatic figure whose life has been overshadowed by his final, infamous act. Tracing Booth's story from his uncertain childhood in Maryland, characterized by a difficult relationship with his famous actor father, to his successful acting career on stages across the country, Alford offers a nuanced picture of Booth as a public figure, performer, and deeply troubled man. Despite the fame and success that attended Booth's career—he was billed at one point as "the youngest star in the world"—he found himself consumed by the Confederate cause and the desire to help the South win its independence. Alford reveals the tormented path that led Booth to conclude, as the Confederacy collapsed in April 1865, that the only way to revive the South and punish the North for the war would be to murder Lincoln—whatever the cost to himself or others. The textured and compelling narrative gives new depth to the familiar events at Ford's Theatre and the aftermath that followed, culminating in Booth's capture and death at the hands of Union soldiers 150 years ago.

Based on original research into government archives, historical libraries, and family records, Fortune's Fool offers the definitive portrait of John Wilkes Booth.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"As Alford's excellent book makes clear, Booth was a celebrity in his own right, and his high profile heightened the drama of the deed: imagine if Elvis Presley had assassinated President John F. Kennedy." -Foreign Affairs

"Fortune's Fool is so deeply researched and persuasively argued that it should stand as the standard portrait for years... Readers will know how this story ended, but Mr. Alford's recounting of Booth's flight and the Army's manhunt is a tour de force of sustained drama, never losing its breakneck pace and offering startling revelations." — Harold Holzer, The Wall Street Journal

"A vivid, gripping portrait of the charming, impetuous, and troubled Booth, whose ill-fated and ultimately murderous path often seems to strangely echo the doomed Shakespearean characters he played on stage. " — Library Journal

"The 'first full-length biography' of Abraham Lincoln's assassin offers much nuance and complexity to the killer ... Alford sifts through the more balanced, credible sources of those who knew Booth before the assassination to flesh out a surprisingly engaging portrait of the brilliant young actor and deeply riven sympathizer to the Southern cause ... Alford paints some intriguing shades of gray in this elucidating portrait." — Kirkus Reviews

"Exemplary... Alford's book examines Booth's movements and interactions in greater depth than any of its predecessors, drawing a clear picture of the psychological spiral that led to his plot to kidnap — and, when that failed, to kill — the president." — The Boston Globe

"Based on meticulous and exhaustive research, written in vivid prose spiced with wry humor, Terry Alford's Fortune's Fool is a tour de force by a masterful historian. This eagerly awaited biography exceeds the high expectations so long entertained by Civil War buffs, Lincolnians, and lovers of American history in general." — Michael Burlingame, author of Abraham Lincoln: A Life


Related Subjects

  • ">19th Century American History - General and Miscellaneous
  • ">19th Century American History - Politics & Government - Presidents
  • ">2015 National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography Finalists
  • ">Assassinations & Conspiracies
  • ">Union - Civil War History

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