Monday, May 13, 2013

Destiny of the Republic

by Candice Millard

You might wonder why someone would choose to write a book about James Garfield, considering he held the office of president less than 200 days, and you also might question reading such a book, but Destiny of the Republic is about much more than our nation's 20th president, it is about the people and the events surrounding him that helped shape the future of America. Candice Millard manages to reveal current inventions, controversies among the medical community, political rivalries and expose the deranged life and mind of Garfield's assassin that surrounded him during his lifetime.

I did not know that James Garfield never ran for the office of president; he was elected as candidate on a whim during a lengthy Republican National Convention in which there was a stalemate between Grant and Blaine. In fact, Garfield did not want the office, and once nominated, on more than one occasion expressed his feelings of disquiet in this election. The lesson here: trust your gut!

His assassin, Charles Guiteau truly was delusional. One of the examining physicians said of Guiteau that all of the links for intelligence were strong, they just didn't form a chain. Fortunately for America, there was no Jose Baez, F. Lee Bailey or Robert Shapiro at the time or Guiteau just may have walked for shooting the president since his defenses of insanity and medical incompetence were both true.

The incompetence of Garfield's attending physician is shocking! Dr. Doctor Bliss (yes, his given name was Doctor) was a pretentious boob who wanted to make a name for himself. In the end he did so, only not the name he had hoped for. He rejected the discoveries of both Pasteur, regarding germs and Lister regarding antisepsis, both of which would have saved Garfield.

At times, Millard gets a bit gross in her details of the suffering of President Garfield, but that can be overlooked in light of all of the interesting information she includes along the way. If you are a fan of obscure history you will like this book. It is a fast and engaging read. 

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