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Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a… (original 2011; edition 2012)

by Candice Millard

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Member:drbowser
Title:Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President
Authors:Candice Millard
Info:Anchor (2012), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 432 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****1/2
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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 100 (next | show all)
Exciting, snappy, informative. ( )
  stonecrops | May 18, 2016 |
Read this one for my library non-fiction reading group. I always enjoy learning something new and this book was no disappointment. Learned quite a bit about President James Garfield, his presidency, the assassination and horrors of medicine during this time period. Alexander Graham Bell's attempts to help with the presidents medical care using an invention he was developing. Germs play a crucial role in the presidents death. The medical community of the time ignored germs as non existent because it was not something they could physically see. Hard to believe Garfield lasted 79 days before finally passing away. ( )
  yvonne.sevignykaiser | Apr 2, 2016 |
When I mentioned this title to a friend of mine her automatic response was “Which president? Lincoln or Kennedy?” And while those may be the most well known, lets not forget the two other assassinated US presidents, McKinley and Garfield. And this one is about Garfield, the president who had great things in mind but would be shot down a mere 4 months into his presidency. But it wouldn't be the gunshot wound that would kill him but the medical care proceeding it. In a time before sterilization (at least in the US, it was already used in Europe) and little known or cared about germs, infection was still a major cause of death in the United States and sadly the 20th president was not immune to such issues.

A short 16 years after the death of Abraham Lincoln, the United States would still be in turmoil and divided racially and politically and for the first time in decade, both the south and north would agree on a president: James Garfield. This is such a well researched and well told story that I had trouble putting it down. Little is known or remembered about this president due to his short time in office but that does not mean he didn't make an impact. A country would come together and rally for the dying president.

This story goes into the life of Garfield, his crazy assassin (and his trial), and those around him (family, friends, co-workers, foes). The beginning was fairly dry for me as it was a lot of politics – although it's to be expected being about you know...a political president. But I was amazed at all I learned about James Garfield, and what an extraordinary man he was. A recommended book for those that enjoy American history. ( )
  UberButter | Feb 9, 2016 |
A Tale of Medicine, Madness and the Murder of a President
This subtitle says it all.
----
I must say that I appreciated reliving history and being given an understanding
of the "state" of medicine at this time.
I was a little squeamish about fingers inserted into wounds but tracing the president as he faced his last days was worth the read.
The madness of Charles Cuiteau was eerie
and all in all I enjoyed Millard's rendition of an important historical event ( )
  pennsylady | Jan 26, 2016 |
Audiobook narrated by Paul Michael

A few short months into his presidency, James A Garfield was shot at close range by a delusional office-seeker named Charles Guiteau. The two bullet wounds were serious but they didn’t kill Garfield. Rather, his physicians killed him by repeatedly introducing infectious agents into the wound.

Gripping, fascinating, and informative, Millard’s novel clearly shows that she is on a par with Laura Hillenbrand (Seabiscuit) and Erik Larsen (Devil in the White City) when it comes to writing history that captures the reader with the pace of a thriller.

The characters all come to life, with their strengths, and weaknesses, displayed for the reader to interpret. Millard also puts the reader right in the middle of the era – I was nearly as uncomfortable as the residents of Washington DC must have been that sweltering summer. The sights, sounds and smells of the sick room, the jails, the train station, and the streets of the city were clearly depicted.

I had never paid much attention to Garfield’s presidency… it lasted only 6 months; he was inaugurated on March 4, 1881, shot on July 2, and died on Sept 19. But his short term, and the manner in which he died, resulted in several major changes – the institution of a professional Civil Service (vs the patronage system widely in place at the time of Garfield’s inauguration) and the move to adopt Joseph Lister’s antisepsis techniques among them. (Full disclosure: I work for surgeons and I could not help yelling at the CD player “Oh, My God … Wash your hands!”)

I highly recommend this work.

Paul Michael does a superb job narrating the audio version of this book. He has great pacing, and skill as a voice artist to differentiate the many male characters (and I loved his subtle Scottish brogue for Alexander Graham Bell).
( )
  BookConcierge | Jan 13, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 100 (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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As cries of "Catch him!" echoed through the train station, Guiteau's face "blanched like that of a corpse," the Venezuelan chargé d'affaires, Camacho, would remember.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:30 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

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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