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

by Candice Millard

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2,3841414,908 (4.27)388
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.
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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 388 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 141 (next | show all)
This is a excellent biography of our 20th President, a man I knew nothing about. After reading this, I am struck by the question " How different would things be if he been able to serve more than 200 days?"

James Garfield rose up from poverty on his own dedication and the help of people who saw the pure genius in him. He began his service to country as an Ohio State Legislature, then he was elected to the US Congress. He had no ambitions to be President. The fact is, he attended the 1880 Republican convention to give the nominating speech for someone else. When the delegates could not agree on anyone(among them U.S. Grant) that was nominated, Garfield's name was put up, and he walked out the convention as the choice to run.

Shortly after being elected Garfield was shot by Charles Guiteau, while waiting to board a train. The bullet wound was not fatal-what was fatal was the doctor(Dr. Doctor Willard Bliss-that is not a typo, his first name was Doctor!) who took control of his care. Unfortunately, Bliss was one with the other American doctors who did not think that Joseph Lister's work with antiseptic surgery was worthy of their time. Immediately after being shot, Bliss was on the scene probing the open wound with dirty hands. Things went down hill from there.

When Candice Millard introduced Alexander Graham Bell
into the story, I was stymied-what the heck has he do with this? So fascinating to learn about the work he put in trying to save Garfield. If you are like me and don't know what Bell invented, you will have to read the book to find out-I will say that this area of the book was interesting and educational for me, I had no idea!
( )
  JBroda | Sep 24, 2021 |
A fairly quick read about an episode not well-known to me (and probably many others), the assassination of President James Garfield. Although it wasn't her intention, the author really did a great job of opening my eyes to how different life was as the US approached the 20th century. As an example, mail is much more important than today. I have to believe that people wrote and sent many letters each day. Mind you, this is after the telephone has been invented and is becoming mainstream. As far as the medicine aspect - it is another good story of how amazing it is that we have as many people in the world today that we do. Pretty good book overall. ( )
  Jeff.Rosendahl | Sep 21, 2021 |
I knew he had been shot and lingered, but I enjoyed learning more of the details. Millard makes Garfield a sympathetic character. I didn't know anything about Guiteau. Crazy! ( )
  spounds | Jul 30, 2021 |
I read this and Candice Millard’s Destiny of the Republic back to back. Both document one of the most dramatic episodes in U. S. history, the unexpected nomination and subsequent assassination of James A. Garfield. Ackerman’s strength is his reportorial skill. He tells the story in largely chronological order, skillfully interweaving the parallel tales of Garfield, the assassin Charles Guiteau, Garfield’s successor Chester A. Arthur, and others. He begins however neither in 1880, the year of the election, nor with any of these three figures, but with an incident more than a dozen years earlier that led to undying enmity between two of the most powerful figures in post-Civil War politics, James G. Blaine and the larger-than-life though today widely forgotten Roscoe Conkling. Like many political feuds, theirs was not based on their political views, which were nearly identical, but sprang from a clash of ambition. They came to Chicago for the 1880 convention locked in a struggle for the nomination, Blaine as candidate, Conkling as manager of convention favorite U. S. Grant, seeking a then-unprecedented third term. Neither would budge, leading to a deadlock and the risk of defeat in November. Ackerman recounts this battle in compelling detail, a style he maintains throughout the book.
One aspect of Ackerman’s account is his take on the two principal characters. He does not say so directly, but his depiction of Garfield’s dealings with Conkling, Blaine, and Levi Morton portray a man of surprising naivete, easily swayed by stronger personalities. It is probable that the titanic battle over political appointments that ended with the shooting of Garfield and the political self-destruction of Conkling would have happened even had Garfield been more circumspect in his conversations, but Ackerman’s depiction left me questioning the political skill of this otherwise most admirable of men. Ackerman is even more revisionist in his assessment of the man who gunned down Garfield. Although described then and since as a disappointed office-seeker, Guiteau’s mental imbalance seemed indubitable. Ackerman doesn’t directly dispute this, but points out that Guiteau had a clear political aim — to make Arthur president — and achieved it, something that can be said of no other presidential assassin. Of course, Arthur went on to confound the expectations not only of Guiteau, but of every other American at the time, by turning his back on Conkling and embracing the cause of Civil Service reform.
A good read.
( )
  HenrySt123 | Jul 19, 2021 |
This book about Garfield's assasination filled in a lot of information about one of our least famous Presidents, and an era given limited attention in most school history books. The book was both informative and interesting, not simply discussing the personal and political life of James Garfield, but also delving into the lives of the assassin Charles Guiteau, and two of the more famous individuals of the time, Alexander Graham Bell and Joseph Lister. Millard tied the lives of the latter two into the story, making it more than a simple tale of murder, or a simple tale about a political life cut short.
( )
  rsutto22 | Jul 15, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 141 (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)

» Add other authors (2 possible)

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.
Of course I did deprecate war, but if it is brought to my door, the bringer will find me at home. - James A. Garfield
Throughout the nation and around the world, President James Garfield's extraordinary rise from fatherlessness and poverty would make him the embodiment of the American dream. Garfield himself, however, refused ever to romanticize his childhood. "Let us never praise poverty, for a child at least.
If I ever get through a course of study I don't expect anyone will ask me what kind of coat I wore when studying, and if they do I shall not be ashamed to tell them it was a ragged one. - James A. Garfield
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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.

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Book description
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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