William Howard Taft and Fisticuffs at One Thousand Feet

The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy, by Jacopo Della Quercia, (St. Martin’s Griffin), 400 pages

If you want a summer read that’s both gripping and silly, Jacopo Della Quercia’s The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy is just the read for you. One could also make a case for it as an unconventional choice for back-to-school reading. Take your pick.

In the America of this novel, William Howard Taft is much more interested in prize fighting than in presidenting—in the political arena he’s just a beard for his wife, Nellie, who really runs the country. Taft spends his time aboard Airship One (a dirigible) with his sidekick Robert Todd Lincoln holding special Cabinet meetings (the “special” cabinet is the liquor cabinet).

Taft and Lincoln stumble into a mystery via a pocket watch that previously belonged to Abraham Lincoln. They set off to solve the mystery, after first disabling the run-amok Taft automaton taking the President’s place in the White House:

“Mr. President… your decoy is stuck in the bathtub again.”

“Confound it! I keep telling them its exhaust port is not submersible. Someone get Nikola Tesla on the telegraph. Tell him I’m tired of plugging holes in the backside of Thomas Edison’s engines!”

This is pretty much the tenor of the entire work and it’s good fun, balancing the ridiculous with the historical. In fact, the more you know about American history, the more you’ll enjoy it. Della Quercia has a long resume as both a teacher of history and a writer of satire, and The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy is full of quick snippets of humor.

Thomas Edison is the brunt of a number of jokes. At one point, Taft paraphrases Edison saying, “He said something about perspiring and taking credit for other people’s inventions.” Later in the story, the first officer of the Titanic looks at Taft “with the same shock as if he had just seen an iceberg.”

As Taft and Lincoln come closer to understanding the mystery initiated with the discovery of the pocket watch, almost every major figure of the era is brought into the action: cabinet members, army officers, barons of industry, Arthur Conan Doyle, even the rapacious King Leopold of Belgium.

When you need a pick-me-up with enough complexity to stay satisfying throughout, you can’t do better than The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy.


I received an electronic ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed are my own.