Bill O'Reilly writes a thriller-style book on the Lincoln assassination

Bill O'Reilly says he focused on Lincoln to show Americans "what true leadership is."

O'Reilly says he became intrigued by the circumstances surrounding the Lincoln assassination after learning that Lafayette Baker – a possible double agent – headed the Booth manhunt.

Before becoming nationally known as a conservative TV host on “The O’Reilly Factor,” Bill O’Reilly taught high school students history, a subject he told USA Today he still loves.

Now, after writing several political books, O'Reilly returns to his interest in history with his new title, “Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination that Changed America Forever.” The book is written in the style of a thriller and focuses on the days leading up to Lincoln’s assassination as well as the hunt afterward for John Wilkes Booth and the struggle to bring those who hatched the assassination plot to justice.

O’Reilly told NPR he wrote the book because he thinks more Americans need to be aware of Lincoln’s skill as a leader.

President Abraham Lincoln was our best leader for a variety of reasons,” O’Reilly said. “I wanted to draw attention to him and write a book that was very dramatic and very exciting to read, but at the same time show Americans what true leadership is so that they can compare it to what we have today and perhaps maybe seek out better leaders.”

O’Reilly, who co-authored the book with historical author Martin Dugard, said that Dugard carried out the research and he did the writing.

O’Reilly also said that he was also intrigued by the circumstances of the manhunt for Booth after Lincoln’s assassination. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton chose Lafayette Baker, a New York detective whose loyalties have been called into question. O’Reilly wondered “why Stanton would go to some guy in New York when he had all his own people around him in D.C,” he said.

Motives around the Booth manhunt became even murkier when Baker wrote a book saying he had turned Booth’s diary over to Stanton and, when a congressional investigation finally found the diary, Baker said 18 pages had been cut out of the diary.

O’Reilly also said that he wondered why Lincoln hadn’t been more careful about his personal safety in an era where petitioners would often wander through the White House unguarded.

“Why didn't he take more care for his personal safety?” he said. “He knew he was being stalked.”

The book is written as a narrative and features one scene in which Lincoln confides in his bodyguard, William Crook, saying he believes he will be assassinated.

“ 'I have perfect confidence in those around me,’ ” Lincoln tells Crook in the book. “ 'In every one of you men. I know that no one could do it and escape alive,’ Lincoln says. The two men walk in silence before he finishes his thought: ‘But if it is to be done, it is impossible to prevent it.’ ”

O’Reilly said he was discussing turning “Killing Lincoln” into a cable TV special, saying that he could envision Harrison Ford as Lincoln.

“It’s very cinematic,” he said of the book.

The book’s publisher, Henry Holt and Co., said yesterday that the book’s opening day sales were more than the first-week sales of both of his last books.

Molly Driscoll is a Monitor contributor.

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