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

DestinyOfTheRepublicI’ll admit to not knowing much about the United States’ twentieth Chief Executive, President James Garfield.  That changed after reading Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard.  I recently read another one of her books recently, River of Doubt, and I was hooked – just my kind of book.  Like the books that Eric Larsen, Bill Bryson and Geoffrey S. Ward write, the reader learns about the subject, plus all the background and surrounding events — what else was happening at that point in history.

The central focus of the book is the assassination of James A. Garfield, and as Millard said after writing the book, she wrote the book not for what she knew about the event, but for what she didn’t.  First of all, Garfield had an amazing life story, rising from poverty to president of a college, to Civil War hero, politician and finally winning the Presidency of the United States in 1888.

His term in office was so short, he had little time to accomplish as much as most Presidents are afforded to lead the country.  Interestingly, Millard had read a book about Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone and teacher of the deaf, and realized that Bell’s story at that point in history was intertwined with Garfield’s.  His efforts to save the President following the shooting are reflective of his brilliance and tenacity.

Medical science was at a crossroads at that time.  Joseph Lister had “discovered” germs and the consequences of sepsis, which for years had cost so many patients their lives.  Garfield, although mortally wounded, lingered for several weeks before succumbing.  Had his attending physician been Joseph Lister he may have lived.

I wouldn’t call the book strictly a biography of James A. Garfield.  However, after reading it you will definitely know more about his life and the kind of man who won the 1888 election.  By the way, he was designated as the Republican’s nominee even though he never sought the office.  Oh, and the man who shot Garfield was, as they say, “off his rocker” (seriously).

If you’re interested in presidential history, you’ll find this an excellent work – like I said, it was just my kind of book, chock full of details and definitely not a stuffy and boring read.  It also made me want to know even more about Garfield, so I’ll be on the hunt for other biographies of his life.

Rating:  ★★★★★

Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!

© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2014.


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