AUTHOR: linda TITLE: Life is a stage DATE: 9:36:00 PM ----- BODY:

This is not my usual read, but -- because I happened to catch a cable broadcast at some book conference in Chicago of James L. Swanson talking about this narrative with a passion for all things Lincoln that he's had his entire life, as well as with neurotic detail characteristic of attorneys and historians, I was convinced I needed to read this.

The bright, compact hard-cover book arrived before I had a chance to forget about Swanson's caterpillar eyebrows wiggling provocatively on that book-fair stage, and dove right in to the story. True to the superbly smooth delivery I saw on the cable broadcast, I read an equally superb account of the excruciating details of "the most thrilling true crime story never before told." Didn't know that.

And, I also didn't know much about the assassin. The book-cover picture certainly hearkened some memory of wading through an American history textbook in fourth grade on a hot afternoon, but I didn't know much about Booth or why he did what he did.

Booth: the Shakespearian thespian with the angelic face, and the riveting eyes. Booth: the beautiful demon -- the most dangerous kind... the kind that seduce you with tales that sound true, the kind that act with racism and criminality that seem right. Hence, the difficulty in reading this account -- one that seems not really to be about the hero Lincoln, but is rather about the excellent actor who dramatically took him over.

Booth took me over. He earned my attention, my consideration, my musing, and, my respect. Not because I think Lincoln should have died or anything like that, but because he did what he said he would, and without fear of death.

And, I think that despite his lifelong fascination with Abraham Lincoln, despite his entire life's work devoted to the hero Lincoln, that Swanson himself is equally taken.

Booth, one of the handsomest, most popular men of his time, and a renowned actor, performed the assassination of the President in such a dramatic way that it's perceived not as the horrible crime that it is, but as theater! Even 140 years after it happened, you and I know of it not as a horrible crime, but as a grand, gruesome historic performance. Having happened, no less, on a stage.

Life is a stage, is it not?