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The Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder… (original 2011; edition 2011)

by Candice Millard

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Member:rosalita
Title:The Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President
Authors:Candice Millard
Info:New York : Doubleday, c2011.
Collections:Read but unowned
Rating:*****
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The Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Medicine, Madness and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard (2011)

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Showing 1-5 of 76 (next | show all)
Wonderful read about a president I knew very little about, and the history of the times around his assassination that pre-date security details, access to the president, what seem to be common sense medical procedures nowadays, and the contributions of Alexander Graham Bell of the "induction machine" and teaching of deaf people. Not to mention what a highly regarded man Garfield was, and how his death and the mourning of the country brought people together for the first time, not as North & South, but as Americans. Highly recommend! ( )
  azrowan | Jul 7, 2014 |
Six-word review: How professional arrogance killed a president.

Extended review:

I don't read much in the way of history, memoir, biography, or other narrative nonfiction. Once in a while, though, I do step outside my customary paths and pick up something that holds my attention in much the same way as good fiction: with story, character, setting, theme, and capable craftsmanship. Destiny of the Republic is such a book. The element of documentable factuality adds significance, and the profound effect of this episode on the American nation as a whole confers a gravitas not to be found in any personal drama, no matter how compelling.

I had never read anything more about James A. Garfield than the few compulsory paragraphs I must have encountered in American history textbooks. His term was so brief, only six months including the two that he spent convalescing after the shooting in July of 1881, that no important changes or lasting achievements were credited to him, at least in my memory. What I never took in as a student was the impact of his assassination itself, much less the meaning of the election and then the loss of this honorable man who had never sought the presidency and had indeed tried to evade it.

As Millard so absorbingly tells it, the drama that unfolds with Garfield's nomination, election, violent injury, and tragic death reflects not only the shape of the nation a century after its founding but also the state of medical science, early advances in telephony, and so light a disregard for national security that it amounts to astounding laxity by today's standards. The intertwined threads of history weave what can almost be seen as inevitability in the way it plays out.

As told by the author, the true villain of the tale is not the deluded madman Charles Guiteau, who pulled the fateful trigger, but another deluded individual, Dr. D. Willard Bliss, the arrogant physician who interposed his own ego-driven agenda between the life of the president and the possibility of remedy by a hand other than his own.

This sad story grieves the heart for the fate of a good man who might have been a great president. It's impossible not to wonder how drastically the course of events in the United States and the world might have been altered by just one or two different choices by key individuals at crucial times. That question, I suppose, is one of the enduring fascinations of history. ( )
1 vote Meredy | Jun 1, 2014 |
When my book club first suggested and then picked Candice Millard's Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a president, I was horrified despite its cool sounding subtitle. I mean, James A. Garfield? I know he was one of our presidents who was assassinated but no one ever talks about him. He must be boring and not worth my time.

Boy, I was wrong in utterly fantastic propotions.

James A. Garfield was a simple normal who grow up in poverty. Luckily, he had parents who valued education, and after a near death experience while he worked on a canal, so did Garfield. He worked his way up through the educational system accomplishing much more than what is fathomable for any 26 year old to acheived: he was a head of a school! After that, Garfield worked his way up through the political and legislative arena until he became President of the United States.

Charles Guiteau, a commune living religious zealot believes, after being one of the only few survivors of a capsized ship, that God has chosen him for divine purpose. His crazy ideas lead him believing that he should have a high position within President Garfield's cabinet. After being removed from the White House premises, Guiteau thinks Garfield is the problem and decides to shoot and kill him...which he does but it is a very slow death.

Why?

The Medical association is divided. There's a Dr. Joseph Lister who is advocating for the use of disinfectant on all medical equipment and practice of safe medicine. However, this being the 1880s, the old ways won't be abolished like that. Dr. Bliss is old school and unfortunately he is Garfield's doctor. Bliss' methods of finding the bullet, by poking his unsanitized finger into Garfield's wound, causes irreparable harm.

Candice Millard had a very difficult job to do: combine all of these different elements and still make a fluid and concise telling of history. She could have gotten boggled down by all of the minutiae and this book could have easily been double the page amount. Millard connected Garfield's, Guiteau's, Bliss', and Alexander Graham Bell's lives and made the convergence seem so simple. The near life-death experiences of Garfield and Guiteau and their reactions to them set them on paths they seemed to destined to be.

From reading Charles Johnson's The Ghost Map, I learned how deplorable and downright disgusting the medical practices were in Europe. It was interesting to see the same parallels in Destiny of the Republic. Including right down to someone emerging as the voice of reason and the collective obstinately resistent to change.

What makes Destiny of the Republic so heartbreaking was Garfield's slow and painful death. It's a shame that if he had been shot 15 years later, the x-ray would have been invented and would have located the bullet. Heck, had Bliss let Bell use his machine all over Garfield's body and not just the side the bullet had to be on, Garfield's life have been spared. ( )
  Y2Ash | Apr 16, 2014 |
As much a portrait of an era as a tale of Garfield's assignation. It sounds like Garfield could have been one of our better presidents. ( )
  bke | Mar 30, 2014 |
I loved this book. I thought it was written in a very literary way, not dry non-fiction, at all. I especially enjoyed the little tidbits of history, and the happenings of the time all over the world. President Garfield, though he served such a short term due to his assassination, was a great man from the state of Ohio. While I read this book, describing the turmoil of the time, and the state of the Republican party, torn into separate factions, I thought it was eerily similar to today's happenings in politics. So many topics can be discussed from this book, including the state of medical care and the awareness of mental illness, and of course, politics. I also thought that it was interesting how much Alexander Graham Bell was involved during this time. ( )
  Mathenam | Mar 25, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 76 (next | show all)
In both of the books she has written about American presidents, Candice Millard has zeroed in on events that other historians largely overlook. Her first book, “The River of Doubt,” followed Theodore Roosevelt’s strenuous efforts to regain his confidence after his failed 1912 third-party bid for re-election and described his near-disastrous journey down the Amazon tributary of the title. The details of this trip were hardly unknown, but they were easily overshadowed by other aspects of Roosevelt’s hugely eventful life. Ms. Millard turned a relative footnote into a newly mesmerizing story.

Now she has chosen an even more neglected and fascinating subject: the 1881 assassination attempt on President James A. Garfield and the dreadfully misguided medical efforts to save his life. Had it not been for this botched treatment, Ms. Millard contends, Garfield would have been one more Civil War veteran walking around with a bullet lodged inside him. Had he survived to serve more than 200 days in office, he might have been much more familiar than he is to many students of White House history.

“Destiny of the Republic,” which takes its title from a fateful speech given by Garfield at the 1880 Republican National Convention, 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. It rediscovers Garfield’s more surprising accomplishments. He was, among other things, a teenage worker on the Erie and Ohio canals, a brigadier general and a scholar who devised an original proof of the Pythagorean theorem at some point during the 17 years he spent in Congress.

Garfield’s transformative effect on the contentious 1880 Republican convention put an end to all that. (Kenneth D. Ackerman’s “Dark Horse” gives a full account of the convention.) At an exhausting point when more than 30 ballots had been cast, Garfield rose to speak out against the chaotic “human ocean in tempest” he was witnessing. He injected a voice of reason. “I have seen the sea lashed into fury and tossed into spray, and its grandeur moves the soul of the dullest man,” he said. “But I remember that it is not the billows, but the calm level of the sea, from which all heights and depths are measured.”

Delegates began unexpectedly throwing their votes to Garfield. He had not been a presidential candidate; now suddenly he was the Republican nominee. When he and his family were swept into the White House, Garfield wrote: “My God! What is there in this place that a man should ever want to get into it?”

Garfield particularly bristled at the calling hours a president then traditionally kept. During this time he met members of the public, many of them office seekers. He quickly noticed a particularly obnoxious visitor: Charles Guiteau, whose pestering was so extreme that Garfield cited him as an “illustration of unparalleled audacity and impudence.” The grandiose and frankly creepy Guiteau wrote so many letters that he became enough of a nuisance to be noticed by other members of the Garfield administration and family. A former lawyer and theologist who earned himself the nickname “Charles Gitout,” he met Garfield on numerous occasions before deciding to shoot him.

Guiteau, whose story has also been much overlooked, made no secret of his plotting. In a letter explaining his plans to the American people, he reasoned: “It will be no worse for Mrs. Garfield, to part with her husband this way, than by natural death. He is liable to go at any time any way.” He scouted jails, deciding where he wanted to be incarcerated. He left instructions (“please order out your troops”) for Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, who would be marshalling troops for Guiteau. They protected the assassin from being killed by a mob before he could go to trial.

“Destiny of the Republic” pursues many threads at first, including the political spoils system exploited by Senator Roscoe Conkling (who forced Chester A. Arthur on Garfield as a vice president); Alexander Graham Bell’s experiments with induction balance; and Joseph Lister’s much-mocked claims that antisepsis was crucial in warding off infection. And then midway through the book these elements converge in Ms. Millard’s gripping account of Guiteau’s attack. After Garfield was shot at the Baltimore and Potomac train station on July 2, 1881, doctors egregiously probed Garfield with hands and instruments, none sterilized. The president’s fever, vomiting and signs of infection were taken as evidence that his body was trying to heal.

The medics explored the wrong side of Garfield’s torso — and under the orders of the senior presiding doctor, D. Willard Bliss, only the wrong side — in efforts to find and remove the foreign body. In one of the many stunning moments that Ms. Millard describes, Bell was allowed to use his method of metal detection only on the bullet-free side of the president and was baffled by the faint, inconclusive noises that his test produced. It would be discovered, too late, that the sounds had come from metal bedsprings in the mattress beneath Garfield.

“His ultimate place in history will be far less exalted than that which he now holds in popular estimation,” The New York Times wrote after Garfield died. This book rebuts that claim. It restores Garfield’s eloquent voice, his great bravery and his strong-willed if not particularly presidential nature. Ms. Millard shows the Garfield legacy to be much more important than most of her readers knew it to be.
added by PLReader | editNY Times, JANET MASLIN (Sep 11, 2011)
 

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Candice Millardprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Michael, PaulNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For my parents, Lawrence and Constance Millard, on their fiftieth wedding anniversary
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(Prologue) Crossing the Long Island Sound in dense fog just before midnight on the night of June 11, 1880, the passengers and crew of the steamship Stonington found themselves wrapped in impenetrable blackness.
Even severed as it was from the rest of the body, the hand was majestic.
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Book description
CONTENTS:
Prologue: Chosen
Part One:Promise
The scientific spirit -- Providence -- A light in the wilderness -- God’s minuteman -- Bleak mountain
Part Two: War
Hand and soul -- Real Brutuses and Bolingbrokes -- Brains, flesh, and blood -- Casus belli -- The dark dreams of presidents -- "A desperate deed"
Part Three: Fear
"Thank God it is all over" -- "It’s true" -- All evil consequences -- Blood-guilty -- "The whole nation kin"
Part Four: Tortured for the Republic
Neither death nor life -- One nation -- "Keep heart" -- On a mountaintop, alone -- Terror, hope, and despair -- After all -- All the angels of the universe
Epilogue: Forever and Forever more
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0385526261, Hardcover)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:26:09 -0400)

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A narrative account of the twentieth president's political career offers insight into his background as a scholar and Civil War hero, his battles against the corrupt establishment, and Alexander Graham Bell's failed attempt to save him from an assassin's bullet.… (more)

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