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The Destiny of the Republic: a Tale of…

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

by Candice Millard

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1,6321144,437 (4.29)305
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. EPub/Nook/OverDrive
Collections:Your library, Read, E-Books, Read but unowned
Tags:American History, Biography, Garfield James, Read, E-Book, Library Book

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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 114 (next | show all)
Here's a portion of US history you probably don't know. And it's the fascinating intersection of a US President you hardly know, and an inventor you thought you knew. ( )
  Mark_Bacon | Jul 24, 2017 |
Much better than I expected. ( )
  ikeman100 | May 7, 2017 |
I had seen this book mentioned with great fanfare as a great biography and I remember the verbal review on NPR when it was first published. So I bought it, put it on a shelf, and decided with this new LT site and its challenges that I would read it. And boy, was it hard to put down!

I think my first sitting I read 60 pages. Just so pulled in, with the author's writing style and her impeccable research. In a sense, she is able to make the individuals in this tragedy human so that a reader is able to connect with them. Millard also puts into context the political climate at the time: the Republican party, the party of Lincoln, was heavily divided into the Stalwarts and the Half-Breeds. The Stalwarts were absolutely convinced that theirs was the right way, the only way, including punishing the South for seceding from the country and starting the Civil War; while the Half-Breeds were more open to negotiation.

This is definitely a tragedy and one only glanced at in high school American History books. Garfield finds himself nominated as Presidential candidate for the Republican Party, is elected President, and sets out to clean house. He is able to do so by accepting the "resignation" of his primary opponent in the Senate, Roscoe Conkling. Meanwhile, a young man named Charles Guiteau lives always on the welfare and handouts of others, leaving his boarding houses just before rent is due, begging from friends and family and half-known individuals. He was part of the Oneida community until he was seen as too unhinged for it, and survives a ferry boat crossing that resulted in a fiery death for several hundred.

Once Guiteau finds and shoots President Garfield, who is on his way to take a few brief days of rest with his wife (recuperating from a fever), the drama unfolds into a medical tragedy. The attending physician does not believe in that European germ theory and finds no problem inserting his fingers or metal tubes into the President's body to poke around to find the bullet. His ego further disallows any other physician to be in attendance, nor for any medical opinion to go so far as to question the location of the bullet.

Alexander Graham Bell features prominently in this work, as an inventor whose telephone is only visited at the science exposition by sheer luck. He creates a machine that is a precursor of the X-Ray machine; it works, but the doctor's insistence on the bullet being on the left-hand side of the body near the groin prevents the bullet from being found and removed.

President Garfield is shown at great length as a calm, quiet, funny man who loved learning and was able to advance himself into learning, a Civil War generalship, and the world of politics because he used his mind and learned from books. He suffered for six weeks when he should not have, and this country lost a man who could have been a great leader. His Vice President, Chester A. Arthur, was able to become presidential when he realizes the fate of the presidency was about to rest with him, and Conkling never rose to prominence.

And Guiteau? Who thought that the will of God and the people wanted him to murder the President? He was vilified, shot at through the walls of his prison, and eventually hung with a great crowd standing and watching. ( )
1 vote threadnsong | Apr 10, 2017 |
Destiny of the Republic tells the story of the assassination of our 20th US President, James Abram Garfield in 1881. He was shot at a Washington DC train station by Charles Guiteau, a mentally ill loser, who thought he would become a hero by killing Garfield. Part of his failed defense was that the bullet didn’t kill Garfield, his medical care following the shooting did.

He was right. The medical men of the era, with few exceptions, did not believe Joseph Lister’s “germ theory.” In fact, they believed the dirtier the better when it came to hands, surgical instruments, etc. The doctor in charge, Dr. Doctor Willard Bliss (Doctor was his given name) was such an egotist that he singlehandedly made all the medical decisions involved in his patient’s care and would not listen to anyone else’s advice. While telling the story of Garfield’s medical care, the author also tells the story of the assassin AND Alexander Graham Bell, who invented a device (a metal detector) to help locate the bullet in Garfield’s torso.

This book is a real page turner -- a shining example of narrative non-fiction! Without the non-fiction group at my public library, I would never have read this book – it would never have occurred to me to pick it up. That’s the beauty of such a group – there are wonderful finds just waiting to be found! ( )
  NewsieQ | Apr 8, 2017 |
A reluctant President, a madman, and a burgeoning technological era collide in this superbly rendered historical tale. In “Destiny of the Republic” Candice Millard brings James A Garfield and his assassin, Charles Guiteau, to life in a maelstrom of late nineteenth-century political intrigue. As she did with “Hero Of The Empire” and “The River Of Doubt,” Ms. Millard has taken larger than life personalities and obscure historical confluences and woven them into an engaging, page-turning drama that begs the question: Why can’t history be taught this way? Another five star recommendation. Well done. ( )
  Renzomalo | Mar 25, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 114 (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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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Candice Millardprimary authorall editionscalculated
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.
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)

(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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