Book Review: Lincoln's Final Hours: Conspiracy, Terror, and the Assassination of America's Greatest President


by Kathryn Canavan

Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2015. Pp. xii, 234. Illus., map, notes, biblio., index. $29.95. ISBN: 081316608X

An Excellent Look at the Death of the President

In what is her first book, journalist and freelance writer Canavan manages to out do pretty much every author who has worked on the death of Lincoln, some of which have been rather impressive indeed. Although most of the book is devoted to the events of April 14th and 15th of 1865, through excellent use of flash backs, Canavan sets the stage for the assassination with great care, often reaching years in the past.

Along the way, Canavan takes often deep looks at the experiences, motivations, actions and movements of the Lincolns and Booth and his co-conspirators, as well as those of various government officials, such as Edwin Stanton and William Seward and Booth’s various henchmen, and even glimpses of many other people, some very ordinary and some rather famous, who had some role in, or were witnesses to the events that unfolded over those days, among them Fred Petersen, who ran the rooming house in which Booth had slept and Lincoln died, veteran and War Department clerk James Tanner, actress Laura Keene, and many more. Canavan follows these people as their paths cross or collide, often discovering curious coincidences and incidents, such as that Booth had once slept in the very bed on which Lincoln died.

Canavan then carries the story through to the death of Booth and then the execution of his cohorts, and adds an epilogue in which we learn a little about the fate of some of the many people who had minor roles in the story.

Canavan offers a more nuanced account of the popular reaction to the president’s death than is commonly found, demonstrating that it was not as universally deplored as is often thought, though with surprising reactions from some people – such as Jefferson Davis – whom one might think would have been pleased about the events.

This is an excellent read for anyone interested in the assassination .


Note: Lincoln’s Final Hours is also available in pdf, ISBN 978-0-8131-6640-0, and as an e-book, ISBN 978-0-8131-6609-4.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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