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Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President

4.18  ·  Rating Details  ·  32,030 Ratings  ·  3,925 Reviews
James A. Garfield may have been the most extraordinary man ever elected president. Born into abject poverty, he rose to become a wunderkind scholar, a Civil War hero, and a renowned and admired reformist congressman. Nominated for president against his will, he engaged in a fierce battle with the corrupt political establishment. But four months after his inauguration, a de ...more
Kindle Edition, 352 pages
Published (first published January 1st 2011)
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Virginia Hoyt A benefit of some kind? Perhaps the way all parts of the nation, especially North and South, were united in their grieving, their appreciation of…moreA benefit of some kind? Perhaps the way all parts of the nation, especially North and South, were united in their grieving, their appreciation of President Garfield.(less)
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Jeffrey Keeten
May 30, 2016 Jeffrey Keeten rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: presidents-staff
In recent years I've been attracted to books about obscure presidents. When I read about the Candice Millard book on James Garfield I was instantly intrigued. I mean no one knows much of anything about Garfield including myself. He is easy to pass over because he barely survived 6 months into his term as president and a good portion of that time he was fighting for his life. The only time his name is brought up in conversation is when someone is struggling to remember the names of the four assas ...more
Miles
Apr 18, 2012 Miles rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
If you're like me, I'll bet you haven't given President James Garfield much thought either. Have you? Come on, admit it. He was elected in 1880, shot in 1881 and gone in months, and suddenly it was all Chester Arthur, all the time. But here's a book that manages to make mountains out of this molehill of a Presidency. First, the author persuades us that Garfield was a truly likable, magnetic, wonderful human being. Honest, thrifty, salt-of-the-earth, up from the farm, a true man of the people in ...more
Will Byrnes
If most people were to be asked today what they thought of Garfield, they would most likely offer an answer about a cartoon cat, and not the 20th president of the United States, the president who served only 200 days in office, the second president to be assassinated, and one of our great losses as a nation.

Candice Millard, the dishy author of The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey, here follows the paths of two men, the ill-fated president, James A Garfield, and the man who
...more
Candi
"There would come a time when the story of James Garfield's early life would be widely admired. Throughout the nation and around the world, his extraordinary rise from fatherlessness and abject poverty would make him the embodiment of the American dream."

This is an outstanding biography of the 20th President of the United States, one whom I admittedly knew very little about previously. James A. Garfield has left such an estimable impression on me after reading this comprehensively researched boo
...more
Stephanie
If a mentally ill person had not been able to get his hands on a gun, the secret service was doing the job that it does today, if doctors didn’t consider the science of antisepsis the way the anti science crowd considers climate change today, Ohio would have had a significant president in James A. Garfield.

I had a long review written here that seemed to have grown out of control. I decided I would let you read the book instead, and you should. In short(er) Mr. Garfield grew up poorer than poor.
...more
Richard Derus
Apr 18, 2013 Richard Derus rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This well-written and tragic story has been revised and can now be found in a place of honor at Expendable Mudge Muses Aloud.
Michael
I learned a lot of facts from this account of the 1881 Garfield assassination, and I was moved by the plight of good people handicapped by the lack modern advances in presidential security and medical care. But I wasn’t enthralled with how the pieces of the book came together or with the limited reflections on the big picture.

I liked the foreshadowing method Millard employed near the beginning with a visit to the 1876 science and technology exposition in Chicago. There we get Lister failing to
...more
Linda O'Donnell F.
What drew me into Destiny of the Republic was a PBS Special that aired not too long ago. We all had a skeletal understanding of the assassination of James A. Garfield. Garfield, unfortunately, became an elusive name in the litany of former presidents. Ah, dear readers, this man was so much more.

In regard to the author, Candice Millard is an exceptional writer. I read her book, The River of Doubt, that depicts the treacherous journey of Teddy Roosevelt as he ventured down the Amazon River. This r
...more
Jennifer
"I never meet a ragged boy in the street without feeling that I may owe him a salute, for I know not what possibilities may be buttoned up under his coat." James A. Garfield

Without a doubt, "Destiny of the Republic" is one of the most interesting and thought provoking non-fiction books I've read in quite some time. Author Candice Millard does an extraordinary job of enlightening readers about the life of James A. Garfield, and the political, scientific, and medical theories and practices of the
...more
Mara
Reading the Presidents: POTUS #20 – James Garfield

What a great way to start out my mission to get to know the presidents! Candice Millard does a great job of interweaving the stories of multiple characters (à la Erik Larson in The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America): James Garfield , Charles Guiteau (his assassin), and (to a lesser extent) Alexander Graham Bell. Toss in some history of science/medicine, some solid info on the early days of t
...more
Wayne Barrett
"His ultimate place in history will be far less exalted than that which he now holds in popular estimation," the New York Times warned its readers. More painful even than the realization that his brief presidency would be forgotten was the thought that future generations would never know the man he had been...
What a tragedy!
Like many of the other reviews I have read on this book I must admit that I knew little to nothing concerning Garfield other than he had been one of the 4 presidents who had
...more
Sue
Jan 02, 2013 Sue rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Readers of history--especially American and political
Recommended to Sue by: Jeffrey Keeten, Chad
This is one of the most interesting biography/history books I've been fortunate to read. The story of the brief Presidency of James Garfield is little known though Millard's work is changing that situation. He came to the Presidency almost accidentally as the Republicans chose him without his campaigning for the position--a compromise of sorts---and a man who became a very popular choice, a man of the people.

Sadly his life would intersect with a madman and with doctors (one in particular) too ce
...more
Eric_W
Does anyone really care about James Garfield? You will after reading this book. Were it not for the Emperor of Brazil would Alexander Bell have been relinquished to the backwater of history? And how ironic that a British Dr. Lister proclaimed knowledge that had it been followed would have saved Garfield's life?

Our reading club decided to read this book for several reasons, perhaps the most important being that Charles Guiteau hailed from Freeport where most of us live. We used to joke it was Fre
...more
Jill
Apr 25, 2012 Jill rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Quite a few times while reading this page-turning and well-researched book, I asked myself, “Where is James Garfield now that we really need him?”

Our 20th president was both a gentleman and a scholar. After pulling himself up from an impoverished background, he quickly distinguished himself as a Civil War brigadier general, a respected Senator, a university president at only 26, and a passionate abolitionist. Much to his own amazement, he emerged the winner of the deadlocked 1880 Republican conv
...more
Shaun
Jan 19, 2014 Shaun rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was good...really good.

Candice Millard does an excellent job of detailing James Garfield's rise to the Presidency, the sixth months he served (a third of that mortally wounded and fighting for his life), and his eventual death (not so much a result of the gunshot wound but the questionable treatment he was forced to endure). However, she also includes details on Alexander Bell and Joseph Lister and the history surrounding some of their inventions/discoveries as they intersect and impact Ga
...more
Cher
Mar 25, 2016 Cher rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5 stars - Incredible. I really loved it.

I am so thankful that this was selected for my local book club as otherwise I may have never learned more about the extraordinary James Garfield. How inspiring that he rose from true abject poverty to become the most powerful man in the country (albeit against his personal wishes/desires). This book has quotes throughout that give the current generation glimpses of what a great leader he was, including his strong support of equality and civil rights. Ho
...more
Evan Leach
Jul 09, 2012 Evan Leach rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
James Garfield was in office for just 200 days: the second shortest presidency in U.S. history. But this relatively obscure president had the potential to be one of the all-timers until an assassin’s bullet, and the medical “care” he received as a result, ended his life. Candace Millard’s book does an impressive job of telling Garfield’s story while also exploring the larger world of late 19th century America.

The book opens on the 1876 World’s Fair, where Alexander Graham Bell first unveiled th
...more
Susan
Oct 07, 2011 Susan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: History buffs
If the 20th U. S. President, James A. Garfield, had not been so well attended by doctors, he very well might have survived being shot by an assassin. If his doctors, especially the controlling and pompous Dr. Doctor Bliss (no, Dr. Doctor is not a mistype), had been willing to practice Lister's antisepsis techniques, Garfield might have lived. And if the assassin, Guiteau, hadn't been a megalomaniac who thought he was supposed to kill the president, the medical care would never have been needed. ...more
Kathleen
Interesting! I listened to this on Audible. Narration was fine, except when a Scottish accent was attempted. I felt almost amazed to see how all these separate events met together at this fairly fuzzy point in history (at least, fuzzy to me). Recommended, even though some aspects are a bit weak (quibbles listed last).

This is a biography of President James A. Garfield, who was assassinated (shot point blank) in 1881 by Charles Guiteau, dying several months later from widespread infection.

In telli
...more
Jason
This year I've decided to challenge myself. I have decided to research American Presidents that I knew nothing about. This basically covers from George Washington to Theodore Roosevelt.

James Abram Garfield. Just what exactly do we know about him? We know he was a) involved in the Civil War as a Captain, b) he was chosen as a candidate in what would eventually come to be known as an extremely close nominating convention, c) he would serve less than a year in office as President and d) he is, unf
...more
Donna
Read again 10/21/13 for Maze Branch Library book discussion

I'm excited to talk about this book tonight. I found new information regarding an Oak Park connection to Garfield's assassin. A great book always opens one to new ideas.

Read again 08/18/13 for book group

I endorse everything I said originally about this book except I fully give it 5 stars. I never lost interest in re-reading it. Superb literary nonfiction for book groups.


This book is about the assassination of President Garfield in 1881 a
...more
Daphne
Apr 29, 2016 Daphne rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own-audio, quest, uno2016
This book was amazing. Seriously. It will also turn your stomach and cause you to hate certain segments of the population.

Garfield's death was probably one of the greatest tragedies in American History. He truly seemed liked an incredible human being, and would have been such a wonderful president. I had no idea what a genius we lost when he was murdered.

Highly - HIGHLY - recommend this book.
Holly Weiss
Mar 11, 2016 Holly Weiss rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I knew little about President Garfield and am glad I read this well-researched historical account of his life and presidency. He seemed a humble, honorable man who loved his family and his country. The plot blurb tells us most of what happens in this book (I felt that unfortunate as I would have liked more surprises.) The tri-part story of Garfield, Alexander Graham Bell and creepy Guiteau strikes a great balance in the book. The archaic medical procedures made me wonder how so many people survi ...more
HBalikov
Aug 07, 2016 HBalikov rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What I knew about James A. Garfield: He was our twentieth President; he was assassinated by “a disgruntled office seeker.” So much for any history I was taught in school. That period between President Grant and President Roosevelt was just a blur.

Candice Millard has done a fine job in filling in the gaps, though that is not the sole purpose of her new book. Thanks to W.B. for pointing me in this direction. Millard shows a fine touch in weaving together the lives of Garfield, his assassin Charle
...more
Sunny Shore
Jun 18, 2014 Sunny Shore rated it it was amazing
WHAT A BOOK! I have always been fascinated by the presidents but just knew one fact about James Garfield. He was the second president to be assassinated. The true story is beautifully written about a truly great man who was pushed into politics by the people around him. Everyone knew the moral core and strength of this man....the goodness. However, when you bring that to the presidency, you will have lots of enemies. No saints in the White House and in the 19th century, this was no exception. No ...more
Maria
Jan 24, 2012 Maria rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The riveting story of President James A. Garfield, a man whose history is neither widely known nor properly appreciated. His election was historic, his presidency united the broken nation after the Civil War, and his death ushered in a new era in health care.

Garfield's humble beginnings and his rise to the highest office in the nation is inspiring and incredible. His love story with his beloved wife Lucretia is tender and sweet. His horrific and agonizing death is shocking and unbelievable. His
...more
Mary
Mar 01, 2015 Mary rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Mary by: Josh
Shelves: non-fiction, 2015
At first glance this book appears to be about a subject matter I would think I'd have only a passing interest in, however, I found myself unable to put it down. It is meticulously researched and reads almost like fiction, and is filled with suspense.

This is not only a historical account about a somewhat obscure president's assassination, but a fascinating insight into the politics, society, state of medicine, and (lack of) sanitation in the US at that time. I was particularly engrossed with the
...more
Samantha
It is without hesitation that I give this biography 5 stars and wish that I could give it more. Everything about this book is wonderfully done, resulting in nonfiction that is every bit as captivating as any novel. I knew next to nothing about James Garfield before listening to this book, but I am happy to have been introduced to him.

What an amazing person to be elected to the presidency despite his own reluctance to even participate in the Republican nominations. The US, still reeling from the
...more
Matthew
Jan 11, 2012 Matthew rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Candice Millard's Destiny of the Republic manages to breath new life into a part of history many have forgotten or ignored. Centering on President Garfield's tragic shooting, and even more tragic death at the hands of his doctors, Millard fuses history with a novelist's grasp of story telling. Few remember Garfield today for any contribution he made to history, and his short tenure as president makes Garfield's contribution to the oval office problematic. Having a degree in History I was suprise ...more
Thor
Aug 09, 2012 Thor rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I loved the book....until a third of the way through it. The prologue, I thought, was so well written wanted to read straight through to the assassination. And the introduction to Garfield was a page turner. This, I thought, was a writer I was happy to be introduced to. Then a fascinating cast of contemporary characters showed up. They were skillfully woven into a deepening plot. I was having trouble putting the book down. Then something happened. I think it was having Garfield made into a super ...more
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  • President James Buchanan: A Biography
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Candice Millard is a former writer and editor for National Geographic magazine. Her first book, The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey, was a New York Times bestseller and was named one of the best books of the year by the New York Times, Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Christian Science Monitor, and Kansas City Star. The River of Doubt was a Barnes & Noble Discover ...more
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“She (the First Lady, entering the room with her gravely wounded husband) would admit fear but not despair.” 3 likes
“Dr. Lister, who treated the wounded Pres. Garfield, had been so stung by the medical establishment's reaction to his embrace of African-American doctors that he, in response, refused to do part from the status quo enough to considering using antiseptic techniques.” 3 likes
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