Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Destiny Of The Republic: A Tale Of Madness, Medicine And The Murder Of A President By Candice Millard

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 By Candice Millard

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James A. 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.

From the Hardcover edition.

Product Details
  • Amazon Sales Rank: #1749 in eBooks
  • Published on: 2011-09-20
  • Released on: 2011-09-20
  • Format: Kindle eBook
  • Number of items: 1
Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

A Letter from Author Candice Millard

At the heart of Destiny of the Republic is the story of the assassination of President James Garfield. What made me want to write this book, however, was not what I knew about President Garfield—that he had been shot by a deranged man in the summer of 1881—but all that I did not.

In everything I read, I am always looking for the thread of an idea, something that surprises me, and leaves me wanting to know more. To me, that's the best part of being a writer—following an idea to see where it leads. Most of the time, after doing a little research, I quickly come to a dead end. One day four years ago, however, I found much more than I had ever expected.

While reading a biography of Alexander Graham Bell, I learned that Bell had tried to help save Garfield's life after the President was shot. I wondered why a man as famous and powerful as Bell, who had invented the telephone just five years earlier, would abandon everything he was working on, put his life on hold, to help any man, even a President. The only way to answer that question, I realized, was to understand exactly what Bell had invented, and, more than that, to find out what kind of man Garfield had been.

After the assassination attempt, Bell devoted himself night and day to inventing something called an induction balance, a type of metal detector, to locate the bullet lodged in the President's body. The induction balance that Bell used for the final time on Garfield is on display in the National Museum of American History, on the National Mall. What most people don't know, however, is that the museum also has all of the versions of Bell's induction balance, in various shapes and sizes, with hanging wires and unfinished edges, that he created while trying to perfect his invention. As I held these fragile instruments in my gloved hands, carefully examining their intricate workings, I could almost see Bell's mind working, and his heart racing, as the President drew closer and closer to death.

Although, in the end, I would spend three years working on this book, it took only a few days of research to realize what Bell must have known—that President Garfield was not only a tragic figure, but one of the most extraordinary men ever elected President of the United States. A passionate abolitionist, Garfield was not only hailed a hero in the Civil War, but was a fierce champion of the rights of freed slaves. At the same time, he was a supremely gifted scholar who had become a university president at just 26 years of age, and, while in Congress, wrote an original proof of the Pythagorean Theorem.

With each diary entry and letter I read, each research trip I took, Garfield came more clearly and vividly to life. It was not until I visited the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington, D.C., however, that I began to understand the extent of the suffering that Garfield, and the nation with him, had endured. In its archives, in a large metal cabinet with long, deep drawers, the museum keeps the remains of two presidential assassins: John Wilkes Booth and Charles Guiteau, the man who shot Garfield. In the same cabinet, in a drawer just below Guiteau's, lies a six-inch section of Garfield's spine, a red pin inserted through a hole in the knobby, yellowed bone to show the path of Guiteau's bullet. It is impossible to look at this heartbreaking collection without being struck by the fact that this story, now hardly remembered, was once a tragedy so wrenching that it transfixed and terrified an entire nation.

This book is my attempt to step back in time, to understand these men and this moment in history, and to tell a story that should never have been forgotten.

A New York Times Notable Book of 2011

"A staggering tale....Millard digs deeply into the turmoil that got James A. Garfield elected, the lunacy that got him shot and the medical malfeasance that turned a minor wound into a mortal one."--Janet Maslin, Top 10 Recommendations for 2011

"One of the many pleasures of Candice Millard's new book, Destiny of the Republic, [is] that she brings poor Garfield to life—and a remarkable life it was…..Fascinating… Outstanding….Millard has written us a penetrating human tragedy."
--The New York Times Book Review

"A spirited tale that intertwines murder, politics and medical mystery, Candice Millard leaves us feeling that Garfield's assassination deprived the nation not only of a remarkably humble and intellectually gifted man but one who perhaps bore the seeds of greatness…. splendidly drawn portraits…. Alexander Graham Bell makes a bravura appearance"—The Wall Street Journal

"Fascinating......Gripping.....Stunning....has a much bigger scope than the events surrounding Garfield's slow, lingering death. It is the haunting tale of how a man who never meant to seek the presidency found himself swept into the White House. . . . Ms. Millard shows the Garfield legacy to be much more important than most of her readers knew it to be."
--The New York Times

"Crisp, concise and revealing history….Millard has crafted a fresh narrative that plumbs some of the most dramatic days in U.S. presidential history"
--The Washington Post
"Destiny of the Republic
displays Millard's energetic writing and rare ability to effortlessly educate the listener."--USA Today

"Brings the era and people involved to vivid life….. Millard takes the reader on a compelling fly on-the-wall journey with these two men until tha...

About the Author
CANDICE MILLARD is the New York Times bestselling author of The River of Doubt. She lives in Kansas City with her husband and children.

From the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews

313 of 315 people found the following review helpful.
5A dead president brought to life
By TChris
James Garfield is most often remembered, if at all, as the president who was assassinated shortly after taking office. Destiny of the Republic brings the dead president back to life. This is not, however, a biography of Garfield. Rather, it is a stirring account of American life and politics during the time of the Garfield presidency, not long after the conclusion of the Civil War, and of a presidential murder. Garfield's early years are sketched out in cursory fashion, his (sometimes troubled) relationship with and eventual devotion to his wife Lucretia is covered in only a few pages, and the death of his youngest child receives little more than a mention. Rather than focusing on Garfield's personal life, Candice Millard devotes her attention to political divisions within the Republican Party (particularly Garfield's battles with New York Senator Roscoe Conkling and the vice president he controlled), as well as Garfield's frustration with the obligations of the office that he had little desire to hold.

The president's assassin is given nearly as much attention as the president. There are times when the book has the feel of a thriller, as the ominous Charles Guiteau weaves in and out of the text, inching himself closer to the president. Millard depicts Guiteau as a con man with delusions of grandeur whose madness was characterized by a growing belief that his plan to assassinate Garfield was divinely inspired.

The assassination occurs at the book's midway point. Millard then treats us to a different kind of political battle, a medical drama about doctors who vie for the opportunity to treat the president and who, ironically, become responsible for his death. Arrogant in their refusal to believe in the existence of germs, American doctors rejected evidence that antiseptic surgical conditions increase a patient's chance of survival. The dirty finger and unwashed probes inserted into Garfield's wound in search of a bullet sealed the president's fate, infecting an injury that Garfield would likely have survived if left untreated. The book concludes with an account of Garfield's autopsy and Guiteau's trial.

Destiny of the Republic succeeds on two levels. First, it is informative. Millard fills the text with interesting facts culled from a variety of primary and secondary source materials, including frequent quotations from contemporaneous news stories and Garfield's diary, to set the scene for Garfield's presidency. We learn enough about the man to understand that he would have made an admirable president. It's interesting to note that Garfield, despite his love of farming, was a scholar, a professor of literature and ancient languages, well versed in mathematics and keenly interested in science, the sort of man who, if running for office today, would likely be branded an "elitist." Garfield's speeches condemning slavery and the unequal treatment of black Americans are eloquent and moving; the book is worth reading for those passages alone.

Second, the book is entertaining. Millard's prose is lively. She captures personalities as if she were writing a novel. She seasons the narrative with humor and creates tension as the events leading to Garfield's encounter with Guiteau unfold. Despite its attention to detail, the narrative moves at a brisk pace.

My sole complaint concerns the attention that Millard gives to Alexander Graham Bell. Granted that Bell's life intersected with Garfield's more than once, and that Bell worked diligently to invent a device that would pinpoint the location of the bullet lodged in Garfield's body, the full chapter and parts of several others devoted to Bell's life seem out of place, as if Millard felt the need to pad her relatively short book with filler. I would have preferred a more thorough discussion of the political aftermath of the shooting. Millard tells us of its unifying effect on a nation that emerged from the Civil War still deeply divided, but provides few facts to support that proposition. A more extensive look at the impact of the assassination on the country would have been more germane than the pages devoted to Bell's life before and after his invention of the telephone.

That criticism aside, Destiny of the Republic is perfect for readers (like me) who want to know about a key moment in American history without being subjected to mind-numbing detail or leaden prose. Millard's book is enlightening and enjoyable. Garfield is a dead president I'm happy to have met.

109 of 111 people found the following review helpful.
5How Not to Treat a President
By Just My Op
If the 20th U. S. President, James A. Garfield, had not been so well attended by doctors, he very well might have survived being shot by an assassin. If his doctors, especially the controlling and pompous Dr. Doctor Bliss (no, Dr. Doctor is not a mistype), had been willing to practice Lister's antisepsis techniques, Garfield might have lived. And if the assassin, Guiteau, hadn't been a megalomaniac who thought he was supposed to kill the president, the medical care would never have been needed. As it was, Garfield died slowly and very painfully, and we never were able to benefit from the president he could have been.

As sad as the story is, I loved the telling of it in this book. Author Candice Millard did a wonderful job of tying together the different people most important in this tragedy, and the mood of the times. I would never have known otherwise that Alexander Graham Bell invented a metal detector so that he could try to locate the bullet still in Garfield's body. I needed a bit stronger stomach than I have to read about Garfield's treatment and the progression of his illness. And, 130 years after his death, I am sorry that he did not get the chance to live his full potential as president. I highly recommend this excellent book.

Thank you to the publisher for giving me an advance reader's edition of the book.

81 of 89 people found the following review helpful.
5Shot by a Madman, Killed by the Doctor
By takingadayoff
Having recently enjoyed the quirky Matthew Algeo book about Grover Cleveland, The President Is a Sick Man: Wherein the Supposedly Virtuous Grover Cleveland Survives a Secret Surgery at Sea and Vilifies the Courageous Newspaperman Who Dared Expose the Truth, I was ready to tackle another 19th century president.

Destiny of the Republic, which is a phrase from a nominating speech James A. Garfield gave at the Republican convention of 1880, is a fine bit of flowery oratory, but as a book title, I find it completely forgettable. "Decline of the Nation? Debacle of the Century? No, but it's something similar..."

Aside from the dull title, the book is a corker. In the first scene we find our hero, Congressman Garfield, at the Centennial Exposition in Pennsylvania in 1876. He strides along, taking in the displays, while other attendees pay to be pushed in wheelchairs. It seems the spectacle of agile people hopping in and out of their rental rascal scooters at the State Fair that I just visited is part of a long American tradition.

This is not a traditional presidential biography. Instead, Candice Millard has focused the book on the attempted assassination of Garfield and the excruciating two months that followed his shooting.

Millard describes Garfield's rise from poor childhood to academic to state representative to president. On separate but converging paths to Garfield's story are the narratives of Charles Guiteau, the unhinged man who shot Garfield, and inventor Alexander Graham Bell, who was feverishly working on a kind of x-ray/metal detector that everyone hoped would save the president's life.

Only seventeen years after the assassination of Lincoln traumatized the nation, Charles Guiteau shot President Garfield. The wound was survivable, indeed, many Civil War veterans sustained similar wounds and lived normal lives. But in the confusion surrounding the shooting of a president, one of the few doctors who did not subscribe to the principle of sterilizing hands and medical equipment managed to intimidate everyone into allowing him to take charge of the President's medical care.

Candice Millard tells the story in a clear narrative way that was so full of fascinating details that I kept stopping to check facts. How did she know what Guiteau was thinking or that Vice President Chester Arthur was in tears? Were these colorful speculations that the author tossed in using artistic license? Not at all. Every statement is backed up by endnotes. Millard consulted diaries, letters, court testimony, newspaper accounts and she documents everything rigorously.

As a student, I was bored silly by American history. Over the years I have come to enjoy 20th century history, but still think of 18th and 19th century American history as complete snoozes. I found Ken Burns' Civil War series so slow and low-key that even now the first few notes of the theme music put me into a deep sleep. So I am quite amazed to have liked Destiny of the Republic so much and hope that it is a huge success for Millard.



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