Killing Reagan is not the first factually challenged narrative that Bill O’Reilly has affixed his name to. Spencer Irvine fact checked an earlier best-selling “history”—
In light of the liberal media’s outrage of a few factual and typing errors in conservative television pundit Bill O’Reilly’s newest book, Killing Lincoln, I felt it was time a conservative reader ought to go through and read it for himself.
As an amateur Civil War buff, having walked the hallowed battlegrounds of Gettysburg and Antietam, I greatly appreciate any best-selling book that discusses one of our nation’s greatest triumphs: the American Civil War. This book has its many advantages. For those that are not familiar with the American Civil War, this book is a great introduction to the end of this horrible conflict. If the reader finds this book interesting and engaging, maybe he or she will go and learn more about the Civil War and hopefully inform others about its significance for Americans today. Another advantage is that O’Reilly gives a detailed backdrop for the reader, by going through the last days of the Confederacy until the surrender of Robert E. Lee at Appomattox. There, he starts the main part of his story, about John Wilkes Booth and the assassination plot against Abraham Lincoln. He does a superb job in portraying Booth as a crazed Southerner, while leading the reader all the while through his suggestions that Lincoln knew of some impending death or misfortune. As enjoyable and entertaining as the novel could be, however, I find that the sensationalized aspect of the novel (which is a kind label at best) takes on a distinctly pro-Union slant and is very opinionated.
More often than not, I found myself grasping for answers, viable and detailed footnoted sources, as well as the reasons behind such elaborate and eloquent descriptions of the day’s weather (as it is written in a running diary format). I had to stop several times to focus and think of what O’Reilly had presented the reader, based on my Civil War knowledge. His description of Ulysses S. Grant, in my opinion, was an affront to Robert E. Lee, painting Grant as a superior tactician to Lee. Little did O’Reilly mention of how Grant incurred a significant amount of Union casualties at Cold Harbor due to full-scale, frontal attacks over open fields against entrenched Confederates in the beginning chapters. Another disputed “fact” is whether Booth actually broke his leg while jumping from the state box where Lincoln sat, to the stage, as O’Reilly alleges. The doctor who attended to Booth in southern Maryland, Samuel Mudd, has been quoted as saying that Booth broke it en route to his home and not in Ford’s Theater. The hubbub over the printing errors, both factual and grammatical, is a small concern to the writer’s credibility in my opinion. The only error mentioned by the liberal media that I found egregious was when O’Reilly alleged that Booth himself carved a peep hole into the state box where Lincoln sat, when that was not the case. O’Reilly then described how Booth was methodical and attributed the peep hole to fit his narrative, a case of shoddy sensationalism.
The book is a great and sensational read for those unfamiliar with the American Civil War, but for an amateur Civil War buff, it falls short of being a great insight into history. The vivid descriptions of raw emotions and thoughts catch the casual reader’s eye, but as far as presenting an unbiased and informative view of the Lincoln assassination, it fails miserably. The lack of detailed footnotes, which historians are accustomed to, is a glaring omission and gives the book little factual credibility. Even Wikipedia’s sources are cited more formally. I may agree with O’Reilly’s politics at times, but as far as this sensational novel is concerned, I cannot say that I would recommend it to others.
This book review was first published in December 2011.