Tuesday, September 13, 2011

My Thoughts Be Bloody - Nora Titone

My Thoughts Be Bloody is an excellent book about Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth and the theatrical family from which he came.  Booth's older brother Edwin was the brightest star in the American theatre, and he and his infamous brother had a stormy rivalry.  Titone, through her superb research, suggests that this rivalry for their father's (Junius Brutus Booth, a brilliant Shakespearean actor from the 1820s until his death in 1852) shining legacy may have played a part in Lincoln's death. 

Edwin, older than John Wilkes by four years, was the more successful actor, and he didn't want any of the other Booth brothers (there was another brother, Junius, Jr.) encroaching on his territory.  He divided the country roughly along the same lines that it would be split into during the Civil War.  He took the cities in the north and east, leaving John Wilkes the south and the west. 

John Wilkes resented this treatment.  He was handsome, muscular and athletic, but he was also lazy and undisciplined.  Furthermore, he hadn't had the same training as Edwin, so his notices were more often than not very poor.  He left acting to pursue an oil scheme in Pennsylvania which failed.  After that, the always staunch Southern sympathizer joined up with conspirators against the president, then made that last appearance at Ford's Theatre.

Although John Wilkes Booth is the undisputed villain of the piece, Titone shows very clearly what forces shaped and warped him.  At times in the narrative, I found myself nearly cringing in sympathy for John Wilkes Booth.  Edwin Booth doesn't exactly come out smelling like a rose.  His grasping for stardom didn't leave a lot of room for family feeling.  He was obviously afraid that if he mentored his younger brother, that brother's fame might eclipse his.  Turns out that he was right, except it was more infamy than fame.

Nora Titone does a great job of showing not only what life was like for members of that profession during the 19th century, but also what was going on outside that rather claustrophobic atmosphere, and she also provides perspective with interesting sketches of the famous figures that both brothers came in contact with. 

My Thoughts Be Bloody includes several pages of photographs, copious end notes and a first-rate bibliography.  It is an enjoyable, informative read and a fresh look at one of the most terrible moments in American history.


jenclair said...

Sounds good! I also want to see the film The Conspirator.

Bybee said...

I've watched the trailer and some scenes on Youtube and it looks really good.

Care said...

Goodness. From just the title, I was wondering, 'Now why would Bybee be reading this?!' but once again, must dig deeper and realize what the book is about! Sounds fascinating! I do think I heard the story that JWB wanted fame so bad but wouldn't have known it was due to family pressures.