Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard
Genre: Non-Fiction, Presidential Biography
Source: Downloaded from my local library
“James Abram Garfield was one of the most extraordinary men ever elected president. Born into abject poverty, he rose to become a wunderkind scholar, a Civil War hero, and a renowned and admired reformist congressman. Nominated for president against his will, he engaged in a fierce battle with the corrupt political establishment. But four months after his inauguration, a deranged office seeker tracked Garfield down and shot him in the back.
But the shot didn't kill Garfield. The drama of what happened subsequently is a powerful story of a nation in turmoil. The unhinged assassin's half-delivered strike shattered the fragile national mood of a country so recently fractured by civil war, and left the wounded president as the object of a bitter behind-the-scenes struggle for power—over his administration, over the nation's future, and, hauntingly, over his medical care. A team of physicians administered shockingly archaic treatments, to disastrous effect. As his condition worsened, Garfield received help: Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, worked around the clock to invent a new device capable of finding the bullet.
Meticulously researched, epic in scope, and pulsating with an intimate human focus and high-velocity narrative drive, The Destiny of the Republic will stand alongside The Devil in the White City and The Professor and the Madman as a classic of narrative history.”
This was one of those books where I was interested in reading it mostly because of the cover and had no idea if I was going to like the subject or not. President James Garfield I had no prior knowledge about – with the exception that he was assassinated. I didn’t have an interest in the man, hadn’t heard any early reviews of the book, and basically read it because it fulfilled a segment on my quest to read a book about all of the presidents. However, what I walked away with was a powerful respect for an intelligent man, disappointment for the country over his assassination and an all consuming passion to tell everyone I know about this great man.
I can’t say enough about how much I enjoyed this book. First of all it is written in a narrative style and the story just moves right along and keeps you riveted to the story – at no time did my mind wander. It is also more than just a story of one man; the story truly has 3 threads – the story of James Garfield (the main narrative), the story of Charles Guiteau (the assassin) and that of Alexander Graham Bell. I won’t spoil for you how Bell becomes involved – as you read you are like, “how does this relate at all”, but I assure you that it all ties together in the end. While you may think that a book with storylines about an assassin and his victim will be tinged with a hatred and respect respectively, that really is not the case here. Millard lets you see a well rounded view of the president – including the fact that he had an affair while away from his wife – as well as what I believe to be a fair view of a clearly mentally unstable man (Guiteau).
You could feel the author’s passion in every word that she wrote and that passion is passed on to the reader. I ran the gamut of emotions with this work – and that is not easy for non-fiction to do. There were moments that brought tears to my eyes, moments of anger and frustration, and sympathy and admiration. This book truly made me care very much about a man and president that I had no interest in. Since I put the book down, the story of James Garfield has not left my mind. The fact that there was the medical understanding at the time to have saved his life and this man could have likely been one of our great presidents and yet they still managed to mess up at every turn has left me exasperated.
I highly recommend this read to anyone who is looking for a good non-fiction read and especially anyone interested in the presidents. I cannot wait to have the opportunity to read her other book on Theodore Roosevelt, although I’m giving it time in between as I am still caught up in Garfield’s story.
One of the things that I cannot be remiss to mention is the quality of the audio production – it was fantastic. The narrator was wonderful. One of the aspects that I enjoyed the most was that when he was reading a quotation you knew it was a quotation because he would alter his voice and create a voice for the character. The regular narrative was read in his standard reading voice. I have read several non-fiction books on audio format and one of the most difficult things can be to tell if what you are hearing is the words of the author or a quotation of someone. That is never the problem here and it keeps you interested.
Candice Millard also has written The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey. You can visit her website for additional information about the book. If you would like to preview the story before reading it, why not try out this excerpt of the book?
You can also watch the book trailer below.
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