I read The Day Lincoln was Shot when it was first published in 1955. It was one of my first “adult” books, and I remember it as a good read, although a lot of it was probably over my head at the time. I’ve just read it again in a Recorded Books edition, read by one of my favorite narrators, Nelson Runger.
The Day Lincoln was Shot is deservedly called a classic. It’s good history built up painstakingly from original source material. Good dramatization a la McCullough, Goodwin, and Morris. And good, lively prose liberally sprinkled with sparkling poetic imagery. In short, it’s still a good read a half-century later.
This is not a book about Lincoln or Booth or the other actors in the drama, nor even about America at the crossroads of its adolescence and The Emancipation Proclamation. Rather, it’s about all of that as it would have been seen by a sensitive observer, a dispassionate journalist, who knew the people and the times.
If the book has a fault, it’s that it spends a lot of time on Lincoln’s dreams and premonitions of assassination. As a psychologist and student of history, I know that it was proper, even fashionable, in 19th century America to give credence to the “unconscious” products of the mind. Still it’s hard to reconcile Bishop’s fastidious separation of facts from speculation with his reporting of Lincoln’s dreams as a matters of fact.
That quibble aside, I can only wish Jim Bishop had gone on to treat of Grant, Stanton, Booth and the other characters and events with he knew so well.