Martin'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
Jun 11, 2012

really liked it

This was an excellent book about the people surrounding a specific event, the second assassination of an American president. The characters include: Garfield, his faithful but neglected wife Lucretia, his crazy, office-seeking assassin Charles Guiteau, his self-appointed treating physician Dr. Doctor Willard Bliss, his vice president Chester Arthur (respected by few), Arthur's mentor Roscoe Conkling (a divisive Republican leader and strong advocate of the patronage system of appointments that Garfield opposed), Alexander Graham Bell (who tried to invent a metal detector to find the bullet), and Robert Todd Lincoln, the only person to be present at the three of the four presidential assassinations. Modern medicine had yet to take hold in the U.S. at this time, and ideas about germs and the need to sterilize EVERYTHING (not just a knife that was then held in a doctor's mouth prior to operating) were looked down upon. Trained nursing had begun in England but not in the States. It is horrible to read about everything that Garfield went through at the hands of his incompetent doctor, particularly the many people sticking their unwashed fingers in the bullet wound at the train station, one of the filthiest places to be. Crazy ass Guiteau rightly said at his trial that he should not be tried for killing the president, because the bullet did not kill him, the erratic medical care did. For me, the only thing I missed in this book was a more detailed explanation of what Garfield stood for politically and what shape his presidency might have taken, but that's what wikipedia is for. It sounds like Garfield might have become one of our great presidents, perhaps attempting to clean up Washington and preventing the post-Reconstruction South from becoming a nightmare for African Americans. I gained a sense of how history can change course through one small error after another. On the positive side, the author notes how the nation's prolonged vigil for the ailing president united it for the first time since before the Civil War.

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