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

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President - Candice Millard James Abram Garfield was the twentieth president of the United States. Not very well known or well remembered in light of very renowned presidents shortly before and after him, his story is non-the-less extremely fascinating. A humble man, coming from very impoverished beginnings, he was a most reluctant president. Bullied into accepting the presidential nomination, he was duly elected and served only a short time before meeting with an assassin’s bullet.

But, this book is not just the story of an assassinated president and that fact is what was most appealing. Ms. Millard manages to give the reader a taste of the late 1800’s. A time of radical change in politics, technology and medicine. Alexander Graham Bell had introduced the telephone, and out of need, the metal detector to determine where the bullet resided in Garfield’s body. Dr. Lister had introduced the idea of “antisepsis” for sterilizing wounds and operating environments. Doctors of the time found the concept of unseen organisms quite absurd and Dr. Lister was ridiculed. Unfortunately, that ridicule cost Garfield his life. The reader is also given a credible glimpse into the madness of his assassin, Charles Guiteau, quite a fascinating story in and of itself.

I enjoy books that have an interesting “back story”, the action that goes on behind the actual purpose of the book. In some instances I find that I become so intrigued with the background that I lose interest in the subject of the book. No so in this case. Yes, this is a biography but it is also a story of an interesting time in history. Enjoyable because it reads like a novel but Ms. Candice backed up her writing with extensive endnotes and documentation. My only complaint … it’s pulled a thread … and now I need to find an interesting biography of Bell.