Gerald Sinstadt'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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Mar 16, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: history
Read from March 16 to 20, 2012

James A Garfield was the twentieth President of the United States. It was an honour he did not seek. Having risen from the poorest of homes to become a General in the Civil War, he was elected to Congress. in 1880, a Republican Convention unable to choose a candidate after several days, nominated Garfield without his permission and against his will. The nation swept him into the White House.

While tracing that story, Candice Millard keeps track of a man named Charles Guiteau. Surviving a dramatic collision of two ships in Long Island Sound convinced Guiteau that he was a chosen man of God. He skips from lodging to lodging, tailor to tailor, without paying his bills, embarks upon a career as a self-appointed evangelist before deciding that his true destiny is in politics. He badgers Garfield to send him to Paris as Ambassador. When that is denied, Guiteau sees the removal of the President as the only solution.

These were days many years before Presidential body guards; Garield could often be seen walking alone on Pennsylvania Avenue. So, as he goes to catch a train, Guiteau, lying in wait at the station, shoots him. The attempt is not immediately fatal. Garfield survives for two months, attended by competing doctors almost wilfully ignorant of developments in medecine that might have saved him. Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, worked feverishly to complete an apparatus that could have given survival a chance.

Garfield's brief Presidency means that his place in the nation's history is shadowy and little known. Millard's magnificent book goes a long way to repairing that omission, portraying Garfield as a man of honour, intellect and substance. Research and superb control of narrative make this a book that will haunt the memory.
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