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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:hoy17
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:*****
Tags:Biographical, History, American History, Presidents

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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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  activelearning | Jul 18, 2015 |
James Abram Garfield was the twentieth president of the United States. Not very well known or well remembered in light of very renowned presidents shortly before and after him, his story is non-the-less extremely fascinating. A humble man, coming from very impoverished beginnings, he was a most reluctant president. Bullied into accepting the presidential nomination, he was duly elected and served only a short time before meeting with an assassin’s bullet.

But, this book is not just the story of an assassinated president and that fact is what was most appealing. Ms. Millard manages to give the reader a taste of the late 1800’s. A time of radical change in politics, technology and medicine. Alexander Graham Bell had introduced the telephone, and out of need, the metal detector to determine where the bullet resided in Garfield’s body. Dr. Lister had introduced the idea of “antisepsis” for sterilizing wounds and operating environments. Doctors of the time found the concept of unseen organisms quite absurd and Dr. Lister was ridiculed. Unfortunately, that ridicule cost Garfield his life. The reader is also given a credible glimpse into the madness of his assassin, Charles Guiteau, quite a fascinating story in and of itself.

I enjoy books that have an interesting “back story”, the action that goes on behind the actual purpose of the book. In some instances I find that I become so intrigued with the background that I lose interest in the subject of the book. No so in this case. Yes, this is a biography but it is also a story of an interesting time in history. Enjoyable because it reads like a novel but Ms. Candice backed up her writing with extensive endnotes and documentation. My only complaint … it’s pulled a thread … and now I need to find an interesting biography of Bell.
( )
  ChristineEllei | Jul 14, 2015 |
Very interesting insight into a part of American history I knew nothing about. We could use a president like Garfield today! The author wove together the stories of Garfield, his assassin, and the stubborness of the American medical establishment toward sterile processes as if it were a novel. I thought the inclusion of Alexander Graham Bell was not quite as successful, but it did point out how the late 19th century was on the cusp of immense technological changes that are still echoing today. I love that authors are presenting history in books that are easy to read and keep your attention. ( )
  TerriBooks | May 14, 2015 |
The book provides a very detailed account of assassination of president James Garfield, including combination of events that led to it and futile attempts to save that very likable president. It's makes for a very interesting read most of the times, it just slowed down after Garfield shooting. ( )
  everfresh1 | Apr 27, 2015 |
Four American presidents have died at the hands of assassins, but all the books seem to be written about just two of them, Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy. Scores of books have been written about these tragic events, and more continue to be published each year. But when is the last time you've seen a book about the assassination of William F. McKinley?

Thanks to Candice Millard, one of our very best writers to focus on American history for a general audience, we have the 2011 book "Destiny of the Republic" about the murder of James Garfield. Her book is so good, perhaps we won't need 50 or 100 more books on the same subject.

Charles Guiteau, thoroughly mad, pulled the trigger and ultimately died for his crime, yet it was Garfeld's doctors, not Guiteau, who actually killed the president, Millard writes. The bullet wound was serious enough for that day (1881), but it was hardly fatal. It had missed all vital organs, and Garfield could have survived and lived a long life if the bullet had simply been ignored. Plenty of Civil War veterans were walking around with similar bullets in similar places in their bodies. But this was the president of the United States, and the doctors determined the bullet must come out. Cleaning their hands and instruments before poking around in his body was never a priority, however.

In 1881, the existence of bacteria remained a controversial idea in the medical world. A man with the unlikely name of Dr. Doctor Bliss appointed himself head of the medical team and, over a period of several weeks repeatedly assaulted Garfield's body, creating a bacteria-filled cavity to where he believed the bullet must surely rest. Later an autopsy found the bullet on the other side of Garfield's body. The infection killed the president.

The inventor Alexander Graham Bell plays a key role in Millard's story. Bell worked long hours to perfect his induction balance machine capable of finding a bullet in a body. Despite technical problems, the device would have worked, but Dr. Bliss would allow Bell to test only the side of Garfield's body where he was convinced the bullet was located, not the side where it actually was.

The president's slow death accomplished something other than inspiring Bell's invention. It united the country more than anything that had happened since the Civil War. North and South, blacks and whites ... everyone loved James Garfield.

The long dying also gave Chester Arthur, Garfield's vice president, time to mature to the point he was ready for the presidency when it finally fell to him. As vice president, Arthur had been Roscoe Conkling's man, not Garfield's. Conkling favored the spoils system, handing out government jobs on the basis of connections rather than merit. Arthur had never gotten a job on the basis of merit in his life and doubted his ability to do just about anything, let alone the presidency. Millard tells how he rose to the task, thanks to advice from a woman he didn't even know.

Like Millard's previous book, "The River of Doubt," about Theodore Roosevelt's nearly-fatal South American adventure, "Destiny of the Republic" makes compulsive reading. More books have been written about the Lincoln and Kennedy assassinations, but few of those books have been the equal of this one. ( )
  hardlyhardy | Mar 31, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 87 (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.)
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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)

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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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