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

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4.17 of 5 stars 4.17  ·  rating details  ·  26,043 ratings  ·  3,314 reviews
James A. Garfield was one of the most extraordinary men 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 deran ...more
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Published September 20th 2011 by Random House Audio (first published January 1st 2011)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jeffrey Keeten
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
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
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 Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways
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
Mara
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 the M'Naghten rule, a few menacing politicians/villains ( ...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 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
Evan Leach
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
Cher
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
Susan
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
Mary
Mar 01, 2015 Mary rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  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
Sunny Shore
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
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
Matthew
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
Robert
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
Angela
I found myself thinking "I had no idea" over and over again as I read this fantastic recounting of the life and presidency of James Garfield, a truly outstanding human being whose presidency was cut tragically short by the combination of an assassin's bullet and the arrogance of the medical establishment. I knew very little about Garfield when I began this book, and at times I worried that the picture being painted by Candice Millard was too good to be true, bordering on hagiography. But source ...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
Ash
When my book club first suggested and then picked Candice Millard's Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a president, I was horrified despite its cool sounding subtitle. I mean, James A. Garfield? I know he was one of our presidents who was assassinated but no one ever talks about him. He must be boring and not worth my time.

Boy, I was wrong in utterly fantastic propotions.

James A. Garfield was a simple normal who grow up in poverty. Luckily, he had parents who
...more
Lisa (Harmonybites)
May 17, 2013 Lisa (Harmonybites) rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those With an Interest in American History
Recommended to Lisa (Harmonybites) by: Sue Drees
James Garfield is one of those on the list of American presidents no one remembers, if not for the fact he is one of four of our presidents to be assassinated, the second after Lincoln. I had also heard before that Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, attempted to use a new invention of his to find the bullet lodged in Garfield's body. After this book, which definitely had some moving passages, I doubt I'll ever forget again our 20th president, who had served for only three months b ...more
Suzanne
The year is 1880 and James Garfield is merely weeks into his new office of President of the United States. As he prepares to board a train, a man approaches him (this is before the days of the Secret Service) and shoots him with a revolver. What follows is months of rudimentary doctoring, as well as agony for the patient and the nation, alike.

The Destiny of the Republic is such a fascinating work of history. It is not only President Garfield’s story (which is interesting in it’s own right), but
...more
Tony
Millard, Candice. DESTINY OF THE REPUBLIC: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President. (2011). ****.
This is a popular history about the assassination of President James A. Garfield by Charles Guiteau in Washington, D. C. It is not a political history of Garfield’s brief tenure in that office, but does provide a lot of background about current events of the time. It starts with the Centennial Exposition of 1876 in Philadelphia that featured what was completed of the Statue of Libe
...more
Schmacko
This is such an excellent book. Eloquent, fair-minded Garfield was only president for four months before an unhinged office seeker named Charles J. Guiteau shot him in the back. Then Garfield struggled for over two months before his body finally succumbed. Destiny of the Republic paints those 6 months in America in sharp detail, by focusing on this one story. This is a book about the stoic man who became President, his assassin, the inventor Alexander Graham Bell (who tried to help save the Pres ...more
aPriL does feral sometimes
Charles Guiteau was insane. Unfortunately, nobody could do anything about it. His family, who belonged to what we'd call an alternative lifestyle farm commune, tried to institutionalize him unsuccessfully. People avoided him after being in his company for any length of time. However, he is able to manage his affairs by conning landlords into renting him temporary housing with promises of payment of rent, traveling from hotel to hotel, writing political tracts. One day he wakes up to the certaint ...more
Clif Hostetler
This is non-fiction history at its best. Candice Millard has a remarkable ability to selectively pick out interrelated story lines from an abundance of historical records and arrange them in a narrative to create a compelling read. This book focuses on the 1881 assassination of the James Garfield, the 20th President of the United States, and in the process of telling the story also describes the lives of various other individuals who were a part of that time in history.

This story takes place du
...more
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  • 1861: The Civil War Awakening
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  • Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln's Legacy
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  • Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt's Doomed Quest to Clean up Sin-loving New York
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  • Gentleman Boss: The Life of Chester Alan Arthur (Signature)
  • The Return of George Washington: 1783-1789
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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
More about Candice Millard...
The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey Untitled on Churchill in South Africa

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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.” 2 likes
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