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Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness,…
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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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1,4691045,082 (4.29)254
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

Work details

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

  1. 40
    Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer by James L. Swanson (doomjesse)
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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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» See also 254 mentions

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When I was a boy, some close relatives moved to Mentor, Ohio, which meant that I visited them there for many years afterward. On the main highway through town there stood Lawnfield, President James A. Garfield's home and library. For all my days in Mentor, I never visited. Who, after all, was Garfield, but one of those blur of post-Civil War presidents who never amounted to more than footnotes in American history texts. Besides, Garfield was assassinated before even serving a year, so of what significance could he possibly be?

I now regret I never spent any time at Lawnfield.

On the timeline of American history, Garfield may remain hardly more than a foot note. But in reading this book, I came to appreciate just what a figure he was. He was admirable in so many ways--a scholar with a keen sense of justice who had the presidency thrust upon him--and had he lived, he may have even been one of our great presidents. But it was not to be, because a delusional nutcase, Charles Guiteau, shot him.

The true tragedy, however, is that Guiteau's imposed wound did not kill Garfield. It's fair to say that his doctors killed him. Not believing in the principles of antisepsis, they probed Garfield's wounds with unwashed, unprotected probes and fingers, setting him up for infection which led him to a slow, torturous death.

The drama is told well by Candice Millard. It may be difficult to convince people that Garfield is well worth remembering, but his story carries power to stand the test of time. ( )
  kvrfan | Aug 19, 2016 |
This fascinating account of the assassination of James Garfield by Charles Guiteau in the early 1880's covers a lot of ground: the backgrounds of its principal characters, such as Garfield, Guiteau, Bliss, A.G.Bell, Chester Arthur, and other relevant political characters; hygiene within the medical practice and the still-early work of Dr. Lister; Bell's early development of the metal detector and its attempted use on Garfield; and a portrait of mental illness in the form of Guiteau. A major point: Garfield didn't die from the bullet that entered his body - he died because Dr Bliss didn't accept the work of Dr Lister in the area of hygiene and infection and probed his wounds continually with unsterilized fingers, eventually inducing bacteria into his body, leading to his rather painful death.

Much of this story is tragedy, from Bliss' headstrong ignorance, to Bell's unsuccessful attempt to locate the bullet (he was told to examine only one side of the body), to Guiteau's delusions that he would be a part of the Garfield administration, which finally led him to believe that killing Garfield was what God called him to do. It was also surprising that after this assassination and Lincoln's just prior, nothing was done to protect a President until that assassination of McKinley in 1901. ( )
  peggybr | Jul 7, 2016 |
Wonderful book! Learned a lot and enjoyed it and recommended it to my book club. ( )
  MarieBueche | Jun 19, 2016 |
Destiny of the Republic:
A Tale of Medicine, Madness and the Murder of a President
– Candice Millard

4 stars

The sub-title says it all. This was a fascinating, well-researched, examination of a tragic episode in American history. It reads like a suspense novel. Millard builds the characters of President James Garfield and his assassin, Charles Guiteau by alternating the biographical details their lives. As Garfield grows in stature and prestige, Guiteau grows in obsession and delusion. I was amazed by the story of Garfield’s rise to a presidency that he did not seek. (I’ve taught elementary American history and this is a fact that never before crossed my radar.)

I did know something about Garfield’s two month ordeal following the shooting. I knew about Bell’s invention and his attempt to locate the bullet. Millard builds on the stark facts in a way that made me feel that I was in the sick room with the suffering President. Her descriptions of the lethal medical practices did on occasion make my stomach churn. The professional power grabbing of Garfield’s doctor made me angry.


This is the way history should be told. Garfield’s death had a huge impact on our nation. I’ll be looking for more books by this author.


I listened to the audio version of this book, performed by Paul Michael. Overall, I was pleased with his reading, but I grew annoyed with his voicing of Guiteau. This caused me to drop my rating to 4 stars.

( )
  msjudy | May 30, 2016 |
Exciting, snappy, informative. ( )
  stonecrops | May 18, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 104 (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.
Quotations
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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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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