For a Biography of John Wilkes Booth, Terry Alford Turns to Amateur Researchers

Historians in the News
tags: Abraham Lincoln, Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth, conspiracy, assassination



Countless words have been written about John Wilkes Booth since he shot Abraham Lincoln in Ford’s Theater 150 years ago on Tuesday. But the assassin, amazingly, has not yet received a full-dress biography.

That changes this week with the publication of Terry Alford’s “Fortune’s Fool,” which delivers fresh revelations about the darkly magnetic Booth’s early violent tendencies (he tortured cats as a boy), up-and-down stage career, growing political extremism, and grisly final hours.

Mr. Alford’s book, published by Oxford University Press, is already being hailed as an important contribution, with the Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer praising it in The Wall Street Journal as “so deeply researched and persuasively argued that it should stand as the standard portrait for years.”

That research included nearly 25 years in libraries and archives, but also something more unusual: immersion in the world of the Boothies, as the amateur researchers, buffs and obsessives bent on tracking down every last detail and relic relating to the assassination proudly call themselves.

“They have dug up wonderful material over the years,” Mr. Alford, a professor at Northern Virginia Community College, said in an interview. “They aren’t professionals, but they have found lots of things historians have missed.” ...




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