Bill O'Reilly's thriller, "Killing Lincoln," gives us a Lincoln cleansed of all controversy and complexity.
As he told his colleagues at Fox and Friends, his goal was to craft a story that would read "like a thriller," and yet instruct the nation on the qualities required of the next president of the United States. O'Reilly's "Killing Lincoln" has succeeded in at least one respect. It delivers a taut, action-packed narrative with cliff-hangers aplenty, no mean feat since we all know how the story ends. But whether the book succeeds as a lesson in moral leadership is quite another question.
In the hands of O'Reilly and his co-author, Martin Dugard, Lincoln's assassination most resembles the kind of morality tale beloved of cable news networks: sensationalized, suggestive, and overly simplistic. O'Reilly's Lincoln is surrounded by a supporting cast of clichés. The cigar-smoking, horse-whispering Ulysses S. Grant, the proudly patrician Robert E. Lee, a childish and impulsive First Lady, and a suave demon in disguise, John Wilkes Booth – "handsome, brilliant, witty, charismatic, tender, and able to bed almost any woman he wants," a passionate son of the Confederacy, and a virulent racist with a "pathological hatred for Lincoln."