Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President – by Candice Millard – book review

Although I don’t read a lot of non-fiction (much preferring fiction), this one was COMPLETELY fascinating and talented author Candice Millard makes it read like a suspense-filled mystery. Awarded five stars on Goodreads.

James Garfield doesn’t get much attention these days, despite being the 20th President of the United States and one of only four presidents to be assassinated. But it turns out he was quite an unusual and interesting guy.

Born into poverty in rural Ohio, he nevertheless becomes a scholar and Civil War hero, known among legislators for fighting political corruption. He was nominated for president even though he didn’t want the job. His unplanned rise to power came about purely as a last-ditch compromise, after rival political factions were unable to get sufficient party support (sound familiar?)

President James A. Garfield (1831-1881)

But the most interesting part of this story unfolds after the assassination attempt, which came when Garfield had been in office for just four months. It’s a story much more about the state of medicine at the time (1880s) and the huge ego and turf battles that are so prominent in Washington DC. Including among physicians.

Candice Millard

I don’t want to give anything away but let’s just say that when someone is shot on July 2nd and survives until September 18th — chances are complications play a bigger role than the initial injuries. How that happened is a tale of blunders, neglect, and overt stupidity. You’ll love it!

And the story of Garfield’s assassin, Charles J. Guiteau, a pathetic office seeker with delusions of grandeur (clearly suffering from mental illness), adds another layer demonstrating just how whimsical and random the course of history can truly be.

More about Candice Millard.