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Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness,…

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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1,5731094,644 (4.29)292
Title:Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President
Authors:Candice Millard
Info:Large Print Press (2012), Edition: Lrg, Paperback, 597 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:nonfiction, narrative nonfiction, well written history of the assassination of James A. Garfield by a madmen and the doctors who induced infection during the president's treatment, audio, well done but a tad dull, 2012

Work details

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Medicine, Madness and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard (2011)

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    Midnight Rising by Tony Horwitz (doomjesse)
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    Dark Horse: The Surprise Election and Political Murder of President James A. Garfield by Kenneth D. Ackerman (BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: Dark Horse and Destiny of the Republic are detailed, engaging historical biographies about President James Garfield. Both present the man as well as the social and political turmoil surrounding him.

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Showing 1-5 of 109 (next | show all)
Great book about President Garfield. How he became President unwillingly, his assasin and the awful medical care he got before antiseptic procedures where adopted. Well written and very insightful ( )
  ShadowBarbara | Jan 27, 2017 |
This gave me a new appreciation for Garfield, and food for thought as to what our country would have been like had he not been murdered. This is a non-scholarly, engaging narrative that touches on the roles of Alexander Graham Bell and Lister as well as brief, understandable explanation of the political environment of Garfield's time. ( )
  kaitanya64 | Jan 3, 2017 |
This is a great non-fiction!! Written as a story rather than a bunch of facts. I didn't know anything about the very short term of Garfield's presidency so it was definitely a learning experience as well. I hightly recommend this book. ( )
  lynnski723 | Dec 31, 2016 |
This was such a fascinating, informative book, and the best part was that it was so readable.
I learned so much about Garfield and his presidency that I knew nothing about, while at the same time learning about the archaic medical practices during the time period.
The author's ability to pull together all her research to tell this story was truly a great feat! ( )
  Iambookish | Dec 14, 2016 |
If you look up "delusional" in the dictionary, there's a full–page, full–color picture of Charles Guiteau.

And if you look up "unfulfilled potential" in my personal dictionary, with this book James Garfield's picture took the place of JFK's.

President James Garfield is one of those Commanders in Chief no one seems to know much about. By which I mean I never knew much about him, until PBS aired an hour-long documentary about his death, which because of its proximity also took in his entire presidency. (But seriously, the name "Garfield" is almost certainly going to mean "cat" to most people, not "president".) I was so utterly horrified by the story – and fascinated, in a look-how-the-train-wreck-twisted-the-metal way – that I went looking for this book.

The short version: it's an excellent book about an extraordinary man, and with a first-rate narration. It's a great book. Depressing, horrifying, heart-rending, and often nauseating – but really great.

Being me, there's a long version.

I could spend a couple thousand words just on what might have been had Garfield lived and served out a full term, or probably two. He was kind of amazing – how is he so unknown? "Big-hearted and cheerful, Garfield was nearly impossible to resist. Throughout his life, he was just as likely to give a friend, or even a determined enemy, a bear hug as a handshake." He deserves a far greater memorial than an orange cartoon cat. This book is a good beginning.

A big part of this story is the literally skin–crawling discussion of what anti–antisepsis medical practitioners practiced… Suddenly time travel is even less attractive. Never mind a dearth of antibiotics, Reconstruction-era racial strife, outhouses, and a complete lack of women's (or children's) rights – this exploration of how a bullet wound was treated in a man who held the highest office of the land and could, theoretically, expect the best medical care possible… this was enough to keep me from ever contacting Max and company in Jodi Taylor's St. Mary's series with a view toward tagging along on a trip backward. Whatever I might sometimes feel about the deficits of this day and age, thank you, I'd like to stay here please.

Because here, and now, no one would need to consider inserting a really bright light bulb into my body to find a bullet. No one would keep feeding me, even after the pattern was established that I would only shortly vomit everything back up (which must have been hellishly painful to the wound on the back, for starters. No one would pour fermented mare's milk down my throat, or inject beef broth into other orifices… No. Every time I start being wistful about the manners and morals and other shiny things about any past age, I'll think of the stubborn insistence of so many medical practitioners that hand-washing wasn't just unnecessary but probably harmful to patients, and … no, really, I'll stay put. (See, the Doctor has the TARDIS. And he's the Doctor. I'll go with him anywhere, anytime.)

I haven't been fond of Robert Lincoln since reading [book:The Emancipator's Wife]; that book's description of his treatment of his mother – who, I grant you, was a couple of McNuggets shy of a Happy Meal and, shall we say, challenging to deal with – left me fuming and heartsick. Now I learn that after Garfield was shot he rushed out in his carriage and picked up Dr. "Filthyhands" Bliss to come and see to the wounded president; he had tried (unsuccessfully, it may not be entirely fair to remind the reader) to save President Lincoln. Without the ham–handed (filthy–handed) efforts of this exemplar of the medical profession, the consensus is that Garfield might would surely have lived. Even apart from the academic or creepy connection Robert Lincoln had to not one, not two, but three assassinations – nope. I still don't like him.

So many good, forward–thinking doctors tried so hard to stop Bliss … And were shouted down. Or just ignored.

And my mind continues to be blown that the Secret Service wasn't officially assigned to protect the president for another twenty years. It's a little shocking that even more incidents didn't occur.

As I mentioned earlier, I found the story heart-breaking. Garfield's death
– devastated his family
– devastated the country
– cut short what might have been a brilliant presidency
– cut short what surely would have been a brilliant life

However, it also
– forced Chester Arthur to become a better man, and a good president (with a lot of help from Julia Sand
– brought the country together more than it had been since before the Civil War
– helped finally quash Roscoe Conkling, who needed quashing so very badly
– raised real awareness that no, really, germs are real and can be prevented from killing a patient if only certain levels of cleanliness are observed
– drove Alexander Graham Bell to develop an invention which, while (because of Bliss) it was unable to do a thing for Garfield, would go on to prevent discomfort and even death for thousands

I find it hard to swallow that Garfield's death might have benefited humanity more than the rest of his life might have … but it might be true.

One quote I made note of: "...traveling from town to town and asking for votes was considered undignified for a presidential candidate..."

I weep softly for the wisdom of a lost age. ( )
  Stewartry | Oct 26, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 109 (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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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.
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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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)

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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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