Fortune’s Fool: The Life of John Wilkes Booth -Terry Alford

BoothOn the night of April 14, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln and his wife take in a performance of ‘Our American Cousin’ at Ford’s Theater.  Later that night, Lincoln is shot and fatally wounded and dies the following morning at 7:22 a.m.  Upon being shot he slipped into a coma and never regained consciousness.  Booth flees the theater but not before suffering a fractured ankle, and is shot and killed twelve days later on April 26, 1865.  His body would not find a final resting place until 1869 when he was buried by his mother at Green Mount Cemetery in Baltimore, Maryland.  But just who was John Wilkes Booth?  And what made him act on that night in April, 1865?

Terry Alford has composed the definitive biography of Booth and his short but intriguing life. As Alford points out early on, there isn’t a wealth of information on Booth’s early life.  However, Alford has done a masterful job researching Booth and putting together the most complete chronology of his life.  And through his efforts, we come to know the complex individual deeply committed to his beliefs and unwavering in his convictions.  Fiercely supportive of the Confederacy and intent on seeing its success, he would go from stage actor to one of the most notorious assassins in American history.   As a fierce supporter of slavery, he opposed emancipation but professed admiration for the abolitionist John Brown.  A gifted actor and favorite of the ladies, he passed over a life of success on the stage for a doomed future of a political assassin.  And his ability to recruit conspirators for the plot would make history for the execution of Mary Surratt was the first time a woman had been executed in United States history.  That record would hold until 1953 when Ethel Rosenberg died in the electric chair at the Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Ossining, New York.

One hundred and fifty-one years have passed since Booth’s death but his actions and life continue to draw attention and discussions about the Lincoln presidency almost always include his name and infamous deed.  The true reasons for many of his actions and decisions went with him to the grave but Terry Alford has given us window into the past in order to begin to understand the ever mysterious John Wilkes Booth.


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