Scot's Reviews > Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President

Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard
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's review
Dec 31, 2011

really liked it

Millard's masterful command of nonfiction narrative makes history come alive. This is the sort of history book that can and should be given to those who find history dull or boring, or think it's all about memorizing dates and names. This will change their minds while teaching them useful background knowledge about a period in U.S. history too often overlooked. (When was the last time you heard James Garfield’s presidency discussed? How much about the man do you recall without consulting Google or Wikipedia?)

Focusing upon the 1881 assassination attack on President James Garfield by the ambitious and deranged Charles Guiteau, the author uses this paradigm drama as a means to not only assess how that encounter affected the lives of those two men, but also its impact on the development or dissemination of crucial scientific, medical, political, and legal interpretation advances for the nation. Fascinating tidbits are picked up along the way. I never knew before, for instance, that Garfield was a true Renaissance man and once gave a campaign lecture, off the cuff, in German to a large group of German emigrants, or that the White House in that period was moldy, falling apart, and filled with rats. Tied into the story along with the two prominent players are personal and professional connections of Alexander Graham Bell, Chester A. Arthur, Joseph Lister, Robert Todd Lincoln. The struggle between the Stalwarts and the Half-Breeds for political control of the Republican Party in 1880, and their acrimonious polarization that put personal political gain over the good of the nation for too many, strikes a familiar chord as one assesses political behavior in Congress today. How Garfield stood above it all, and how he helped a bitterly divided nation find common ground (in his own works, and then later, as they mourned him together) are both lessons worth revisiting.
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Brian Eshleman The author was on BookTV reviewing this work, and she came across as enthusiastic and even charismatic. I'm glad this came across in her prose. Thanks for the review.

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