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243 × 164 × 32 mm
344 pages
81 illustrations
12 Oct 2020

Assassins’ Deeds A History of Assassination from Ancient Egypt to the Present Day John Withington

Assassins have been murdering the powerful and famous for at least 4,000 years. At first, the most common reason was personal ambition, and the perpetrators were often close family, like the Turkish sultan who had nineteen of his brothers strangled. More recent motives include religion and political ideology.

For centuries, methods changed little – stabbing, poison, strangling. All required getting right up to the target, and even when firearms appeared, assassins usually preferred the handgun at close quarters to the sniper’s rifle. And many victims were surprisingly careless: Abraham Lincoln had let his bodyguard go for a drink.

So does assassination work? Assassins’ Deeds delves into some of history’s most notorious acts, unveiling an intriguing cast of characters, nail-biting drama and many unintended consequences.

‘Death has long stalked the halls of power, and this overview of the murders of the famous and important stretches back to the ancient world. Exploring what such killings tell us about the society and politics of each era, it offers a litany of humanity's darker sides – ambition, greed, and lust for control. Studded with necessarily grisly case studies, it's leavened by a final section on those who got away.’ — BBC History Magazine

‘History is studded with infamous moments in which the rich and powerful met untimely ends – and this book charts the methods and motivations of those who have meted them out. It's arranged chronologically, taking in everything from the Ides of March, the day on which Roman dictator Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC, right through to the horrors of modern terrorism.’ — History Revealed

‘Good King Wenceslaus looked out, the carol states, on the Feast of Stephen. For the noble name-checked in the song, taking up an invitation to a Saints Day banquet from his brother did not end well. The Bohemian noble was brutally assassinated, hacked to pieces by his sibling’s henchmen after dinner. Wenceslaus’s story, along with more than 300 others, are retold by author Withington in a comprehensive, chronological history of this particular form of murder.’ — Camden New Journal

‘In this fast-paced survey, Withington catalogs recorded assassinations from ancient times to the present day . . . Withington meticulously describes the background, motivation, and method of each killing, which keeps the book interesting. He raises provocative questions about whether assassinations make much of a political difference and about the morality of eliminating leaders as an alternative to wider, bloodier conflicts.’ — Professor Sir Lawrence Freedman, Foreign Affairs

‘Like Shakespeare himself, Assassins’ Deeds offers us a stage memorably strewn with the most distinguished of corpses. ‘Bloody instructions’ (as Macbeth called them) are certainly to be found here in abundance. But there are also wise words about how often incompetence and unintended consequences derail the best laid plans. Assassination, Withington instructs us in entertaining style, is no exact science. A messy tale: and a haunting one.’ — Dr Tim Wilson, Director, Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence (CSTPV), University of St Andrews

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John Withington is an award-winning television journalist, based in London, whose previous books include Secrets of the Centenarians (Reaktion, 2017).


1 The ancient world
2 The Roman Empire and the Dark Ages
3 The Age of Chivalry
4 The Wars of Religion
5 The Age of Revolution
6 The Modern Age: World Wars and Terrorism
7 The Ones That Got Away

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