Christina'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 12, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: park-ridge-book-club

I learned an amazing amount from Millard's gripping account of the rise and fall of President James Garfield, who was shot by a mentally unhinged office seeker in 1881, just four months into his term. Most surprising is the revelation that it was not the assassin's bullet that killed him but rather Garfield's doctors, who ignored Lister's new research and introduced infection by their use of unwashed hands and unsterilized instruments to probe Garfield's wound for the bullet. Even prior to that, I was surprised to learn that like Abe Lincoln, Garfield rose from poverty to become a great man: a college president, Civil War general, congressman, and ultimately president. Garfield not only never sought the presidency, he actually gave a nominating speech at the Republican convention in favor of another candidate. Once elected, he and his family occupied a rat-infested, dilapidated White House filled with office seekers, like his assassin, Charles Guiteau, who lay in wait for the president or other Cabinet members, hoping to receive a patronage appointment. Although the Secret Service existed at the time, its role was not to guard the president, so Garfield traveled around Washington without any protection whatsoever, even though it was only fifteen years after Booth's bullet ended Lincoln's life. Millard's well-researched account reveals Garfield to be a charismatic, well-intentioned, and popular statesman who did not have time to achieve the greatness that was his destiny. I'm convinced! I can't wait to read more about both Garfield and his unlikely successor, Chet Arthur.

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