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

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  64,483 ratings  ·  6,356 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
Hardcover, 339 pages
Published September 20th 2011 by Doubleday
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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 Pres…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)
Tom I visited this home in Ohio a could of years ago, and as I recall he knew 7 different languages.

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Jeffrey Keeten
Oct 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Will Byrnes
Feb 22, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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.

Image from Penguin Random House Speakers Bureau

Candice Millard, the author of The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey, here follows the paths of two men, the ill-fated presi
Elyse  Walters
Jun 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I'm excited that I'm excited!!!! Does this make sense?? Have you ever been excited that you are REALLY EXCITED???

In a VERY SHORT PERIOD OF TIME I've read books about 3 American Past Presidents....

I'm pleased to say.... just like the positive late bloomer reader experience WHEN A LIGHT SWITCH WENT OFF ....and I knew I'd be reading for the rest of my life.....
I TURNED A HUGE CORNER AGAIN JUST IN THIS WEEK. I'm now 'clear' -- I have nothing to fear - or reasons to resist reading about past Preside
Dec 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
“When [President James] Garfield walked in, [Charles] Guiteau was standing right behind him. This, Guiteau realized, was his chance to kill the president, and this time he was not about to let it slip away. Without a moment’s hesitation, he raised the revolver he had been carrying with him for nearly a month and pointed it at Garfield’s back. So complete was his composure that he might have been standing at the edge of the Potomac aiming at a sapling, instead of in a crowded train station about ...more
"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
As riveting as a thriller, this book is proof that history need not be boring or dull. I knew little of President Garfield before reading this book and I’m only sorry it took me so long to do so. Marialyce and I chose this as a buddy read, and it's one that deeply moved us both.

He was bigger than life, a gregarious man who loved life and his family. He grew up poor, yet managed to go to college, and become a university professor and president as well as a minister. He was a man of the people, a
Sep 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
A fascinating non fiction story, Murder, politics and a medical mystery all in one.

I had passed up on this book on so many occasions. I just could not summon enough interest in an American president that I had never heard about to bother purchasing a book. But the reviews were so compelling that I had to source a second hand copy and what a surprising insightful and fascinating read this one turned out to be.

James Abram Garfield was one of the most extraordinary men elected president. Born in
Feb 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Although I am a history buff, I imagine that "Destiny of the Republic" would be a page turner for any reasonable reader. When nonfiction is well done it is nigh on unbeatable and this text easily fits that bill. I had never heard of its author, Candice Millard, before but I will pick up her other book based solely on how much I enjoyed this one. The subject matter of her previous book, "The River of Doubt" does not sound all that interesting to me, but in her capable hands I am sure I will enjoy ...more
Mar 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is another fascinating history book from Candice Millard. Destiny of the Republic is about the life of President James Garfield and Charles Guiteau, the deranged man who assassinated him in 1881. There's also great stuff on the history of medicine, including how long it took before American doctors believed in the importance of sterile instruments and in the dangers of infections in wounds.

One of the frustrating side effects of reading a lot of history is realizing how many times that thing
Feb 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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
Cathrine ☯️
"Even as he lay dying, Garfield was kind, patient, cheerful, and deeply grateful. When Bliss told him a fund was being raised for
[his wife] Lucretia, Garfield was overcome with gratitude. 'What' he said in surprise. Then turning his face to his pillow to hide his emotion he continued, 'How kind and thoughtful. What a generous people.'"

Perhaps like me you know James Garfield only as one of four U.S. presidents assassinated while in office. He was only in the White House four months when the bu
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
Stephanie *Eff your feelings*
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.
Surprisingly very good audiobook. Who ever knew anything about this president?
Highly recommend for those that like history and politics. Just terrific.

5 out of 5 stars.

Tamar...light at the end of the tunnel?
Destiny of the Republic is an excellent read – especially for someone like me, who rarely reads non-fiction and/or biographies. Candice Millard has written a book that is gripping from start to finish (well, almost – see below). I’m not sure there is anyone in the country who knew less about President Garfield than I did, before I read this book. One interesting thing I learned was that President Garfield was born and raised in Orange, Ohio, less than five miles from where I grew up, and later l ...more
Richard Derus
Aug 31, 2012 rated it really liked it
This well-written and tragic story has been revised and can now be found in a place of honor at Expendable Mudge Muses Aloud. ...more
Jan 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook
In an interesting, quasi-biographical piece, Candice Millard explores the brief presidency of James A. Garfield and the assassination attempt that would eventually take his life. While it would seem a clear-cut task, Millard broadens the story to include a few additional individuals, whose actions play a key role in better understanding events surrounding the president’s lingering before finally succumbing in September 1881. Millard opens the narrative at the Centennial Exposition, where celebra ...more
Of course I deprecate war but if it is brought to my door the bringer will find me at home. - James A. Garfield

There was never a more reluctant candidate for president than James A. Garfield. He was drafted into the nomination over his own vocal protests, and he wrote a friend directly following his election, ”There is a tone of sadness running through this triumph which I can hardly explain.” For me, this makes his fate all the sadder. As the first quote attests, he was a man who would fight hi
Feb 19, 2021 rated it it was amazing
After reading Millard's fascinating book "The River of Doubt", I was curious to see what else she had written. In "Destiny of the Republic" she highlights a very different president, but does so in a similarly gripping and impeccably researched manner. It read like fiction, but taught me a lot I never knew about this president and this time in US history. I didn't know, for example, that presidents before Garfield never had bodyguards, or that Garfield's widow founded the first presidential libr ...more
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 day
Apr 19, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2019
The 23rd most smashable US President finally gets the spotlight in this astonishing reconsideration of a man who, lest you forget, was singlehandedly responsible for...for...what did he do again?


He died! He got shot before he'd even served a year, and then slowly died of the infections brought on by his idiot doctors. This was just after the Civil War, when doctors treated most wounds with saws. He accomplished nothing.


This presents a problem for this bizarrely worshipful book, whose goal seems
John of Canada
Okay,this IS the best thing I've read all year,maybe ever.I knew that Garfield had been assassinated,and that's all.This read like a novel.The research Millard went through was awe inspiring,and her writing skill is peerless.I had read her book,The River of Doubt,and gave it a huge rating as well.Because of Candice's book,James Garfield is now one of my two favourite presidents.The other of course is Theodore Roosevelt.
With a cast of characters including Joseph Lister, Alexander Graham Bell,Fred
Peter Beck
Jun 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: presidents
Ms. Millard? More Please! Kudos to Candice for writing a vibrant and moving account of the assassination of James Garfield, America’s 20th president. This is the first time I have read a book that I wish had been twice as long.

Garfield once asked a close friend, “Do you think my name will have a place in human history?” (p. 228). Millard has done more than anyone else to make that happen. For starters, her biography is 20 times more popular than “Dark Horse,” the next most popular biography of
Wow! Who knew?! When I saw that our Minneapolis Institute of Art book club had picked this for the October book tour, I knew I would read it, but was unsure about whether I would like it. (Although the stellar reviews from my GR community were encouraging.) I did not just like it, I LOVED it. And it was so appropriate to where we are right now in the States with the election just a couple of weeks away.

Millard's story of Garfield, his life and his death by assassination read like a novel. It re
Feb 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
"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
Dec 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: american-history
Candice Millard’s biography of James Garfield explores a less well known but meaningful episode in U. S. history. We’ll never know if Garfield would have made the great president everyone felt he would be. But his assassination did have significant impact.

Perhaps the most important was the shared emotion that gave the entire nation, South and North, something to come together over for the first time since the war. Another was abandonment of the spoils system and the implementation of the civil s
Jul 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
James Garfield was an exceptional individual. Born in 1831, he was raised in abject poverty after his father died and his mother was left to raise four small children on her own. She valued education, and sacrificed to make sure that James was able to attend school. James was an honest, intelligent man, and an eloquent speaker who became a university president at the age of 26, a successful lawyer, an early abolitionist, a Civil War general, and had a distinguished career in Congress. He never a ...more
Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President gives an interesting account of the latter part of the nineteenth century, while highlighting the impoverished childhood of James A. Garfield, who went on to obtain higher education, and described as a"wunderkind scholar" graduating from Williams College. He went on to serve in the Civil War as well as in Congress. At a time of political unrest, James A. Garfield emerged as the Presidential nominee at the 1880 Rep ...more
I read this book as an answer to a prompt: read a book of narrative non-fiction. ANYTHING with historical content is on my favorites list. But when a book is both true AND reads like a novel, that is my truly, next to my heart, favorite genre.

Of course, I had heard of James A Garfield, the USA's 20th president, and that he was assassinated, but I did not know

- that he lingered for two and a half months before dying
- that it was serious infection that riddled his body that killed him, not the bul
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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 Gre ...more

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“Garfield's shooting had also revealed to the American people how vulnerable they were. In the little more than a century since its inception, the United States had become a powerful and respected country. Yet Americans suddenly realized that they still had no real control over their own fate. Not only could they not prevent a tragedy of such magnitude, they couldn't even anticipate it. The course of their lives could be changed in an instant, by a man who did not even understand what he had done.” 10 likes
“She (the First Lady, entering the room with her gravely wounded husband) would admit fear but not despair.” 8 likes
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