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Review of Assassins and Assassinations: History's Most Famous Plots by

Assassins and Assassinations: History's Most Famous Plots

by Paul Donnelley

2 out of 5 stars ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Reviewed .

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I’m working my way through Assassin’s Creed III now. It’s slow going because I don’t devote a lot of my free time to it (I have to read, after all). I’ve been playing this series since the first game, and next to Mass Effect, it’s one of my favourite games. It combines stealth, combat, and storytelling to very good effect. The first game was very repetitive, but Assassin’s Creed II and its two sequels elevated the game to a different level. Assassinating people has never been more fun.

I wanted to learn more about real assassinations through history. Rather than read a book about a single famous assassination, I was looking for something that would survey several assassinations and comment upon them. So a book called Assassins and Assassinations sounded like exactly what I wanted. Indeed, Paul Donnelley delivers exactly that. However, this might be a case where what I wished for isn’t actually what I wanted.

Donnelley writes each chapter like a newspaper article. It’s full of dry facts, parenthetical commentary on people’s dates of birth, and details and minutiae. Each sentence is packed full of the maximum amount of information it can bear without breaking. Seldom does Donnelley devote space to a lighter tone; almost everything is factual. Similarly, he injects little of his own opinion or asides into this flow of information.

There is nothing wrong with this. In fact, some people might prefer it. I’m just not one of them. When I read non-fiction, I like my authors to let their personality shine through their words (the exception, of course, would be purely academic literature, but that isn’t the case here). I can’t help but feel that if Bill Bryson wrote a book about famous assassinations, it would be twice this thick and include several anecdotes about his time in the Appalachians. And I’d give it five stars and buy copies for all my friends.

Tone aside, I can’t fault the comprehensive and detailed nature of Assassins and Assassinations. Donnelley has compiled an extensive selection of assassination plots, from Julius Caesar to the attempts on Hitler’s life and, naturally, the assassinations of such presidents as Lincoln and Kennedy. This is one informative, sometimes interesting book. It’s short enough that it isn’t a slog, especially if you don’t try to consume it too quickly. Rather than ploughing through it, I took it a few assassinations a night.

So if you’re looking, like I was, for a book about assassinations, you can’t really go wrong here. It doesn’t have the flair that I look for in my non-fiction; that might not be as big a deal for you. At the end of the day, Donnelley traces the combination of plots and chance that take people’s lives, start wars, and end eras. So many key moments in history involved an assassination of some kind, and many more assassinations remain heavy in our minds because of the people involved or the aftermath they caused. Assassins and Assassinations recounts all the details with a stark, no-nonsense approach.


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