Famous Assassinations, by Sarah Herman

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Sarah Herman and Sapere Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Sarah Herman seeks to explore the somewhat controversial side of death, particularly as it relates to those of some notoriety. Herman uses her introduction to explore the difference between simple—as if that word applies—murder and an act of assassination. Assassination includes the murder of a political or religious figure to negate some change being espoused, keeping the definition vague enough to include many figures in history. She also effectively argues that assassinations of key figures can be found throughout history, as far back as documents exist. Tracing not only the history of assassinations, but also offering a backstory on some of those she uses as examples, Herman shows that plots to kill for power can be found centuries before the Common Era, where Roman emperors were slain to make room for others who wanted their crowns. Other monarchs also found themselves at the wrong end of a sword’s blade, slain sometimes to stop their despotic power or to change the political and geographic unions that kept Europe together. Herman moves through to those who pushed political movements and sought to change things from the grassroots level. While not powerful in the traditional sense of politics, these groups sought to change results and their deaths may have been attempts to neutralise the ‘thorn in the side’ these men created. From Gandhi to Martin Luther King, Jr., those who sought to enact change came up against strong resistance and found themselves slain, becoming martyrs for their causes. Herman seeks to explore some interesting developments in the latter portion of the book by exploring presidential assassination, some of whom are better known than others. Looking at US presidents Lincoln and Kennedy, Herman explores their well-known slayings and makes some generic summaries of events surrounding their respective shootings, while also looking at assassination attempts that fell just short. Herman takes an all-encompassing look at assassination as a form of political and religious movement to effect change, arguing that it is by no means a new phenomenon. Interested readers can bask in the large number of cases Herman introduces and use this book as a springboard to more in-depth reading about those cases they find most intriguing.

I have always had an interest in assassinations, as they mix the need for power with the desire to better understand what led to such a dramatic reaction. Herman has done a fair bit of research to generate a large narrative of assassinations that pepper the history books, organising them into distinct categories. Her choice to offer the reader a small background of the victim and killer is furthered by a ‘lay of the land’ related to the events leading up to the tragic act and some of the fallout thereafter. From emperors to monarchs through to presidents and protestors, Herman argues that violent death does not discriminate, as long as it serves the purposes of someone with a plan. While Herman’s book offers a wonderful cross-section of assassinations, the reader should be clear that this is strictly a primer. Her descriptions, while great for those wanting a brief glimpse, is not all-encompassing. It serves only to whet the appetite for those readers wanting a thorough exploration of assassinations throughout history. Herman’s book serves its purpose, though skimming the surface on so many historical events leaves readers like myself feeling somewhat shortchanged. A decent primer shows that Herman knows her stuff and should be applauded for her effort in gathering up so many examples to prove her arguments.

Kudos, Madam Herman, for a nice introduction to the world of assassinations. I will look forward to finding more of your work in the coming months.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons