Jan and I decided to read this story and were so happy that we did. It was beyond fascinating and we both were blown away by both James Garfield, his background, and the way he became the leader of this country being our twentieth president, a man who came from nothing to assume the highest office in our land. A captivating book and one we definitely recommend most highly.
As riveting as a thriller, this book is proof that history need not be boring or dull. I knew little of President Garfield before reading this and I’m only sorry it took me so long to do so. Marialyce and I chose this as a buddy read, and it’s one that deeply moved us both.
He was bigger than life, a gregarious man who loved life and his family. He grew up poor, yet managed to go to college, and become a university professor and president as well as a minister. He was a man of the people, a strong anti-slavery advocate, and served as a general in the Union Army during the American Civil War.
Telling a group of blacks who traveled to his home in OH: “ You were not made free merely to be allowed to vote, but in order to enjoy an equality of opportunity in the race of life.” “ And I tell you now, in the closing days of the campaign, that I would rather be with you and defeated than against you and victorious.” He firmly believed education was the means to better oneself, regardless of color.
This story is about so much more than the assassination of a President. The author has woven into Garfield’s story the assassin, Charles Guiteau’s, growing delusions and mental illness, as well as the efforts of Alexander Graham Bell to develop a device to locate the bullet that still resided in the President’s body.
Dr. Joseph Lister’s theory of germs and the importance of disinfection, which was largely ignored or mocked by the medical community, plays a part in the President’s death. In particular, the arrogant and pompous Dr. Bliss, was single-handedly responsible for Garfield’s death from sepsis. The horror and suffering Garfield endured as he lay dying for two months was often difficult to read. Yet, he bore it all with grace and good humor, never complaining, and ever grateful to the doctors who treated him. Had Garfield simply gone home after being shot and left alone to recuperate, he would have survived.
Other well-known people make an appearance, including Helen Keller and Robert Todd Lincoln (who tragically was present at three Presidential assassinations). The political corruption and shenanigans of the times were also explored (spoiler alert: not much has changed)
The country was still wounded and divided from the Civil War, but Garfield’s death brought the country together in a way that had seemed impossible. Much loved by everyone, there was an outpouring of grief throughout the country. The people mourned his death as Americans, not as Northerners or Southerners, which is perhaps his greatest legacy.
Each chapter began with a quote from Garfield, which highlighted how deeply thoughtful and kind he was. The author writes in such a way that I felt I knew the man, not just the President. Only four months into his Presidency when he was shot, the nation missed out on a Garfield presidency and we will never know the full impact he would have made.
There are so many things we do not know about the men who have led our country and so many of these things make them so very real to those who just knew their names from a history class. Garfield was famous because he was one of our presidents who was assassinated, but there was so much more to this wonderful man who was taken from us too soon.
Garfield came from nothing. He was dirt poor, raised in Orange Township, Ohio, one of five children born in a log cabin. Six months into office, the second shortest term served by any president, Garfield was dead at the hands of a crazed assassin., Charles Guiteau.
This amazing book covers in ever so interesting detail Garfield’s early life, his rise to prominence, his family he adored, and the type of man he was. Garfield was an exemplary person, who never seemed to have a cruel word about or to anyone. Even as he suffered through the months after being shot, being treated in what we today would call a barbaric manner, he still endeavored to maintain a pleasant and accepting demeanor. There was no doubt he was in excruciating pain and yet he bore it all. Aided by his loving wife, he seem to radiate peace always.
Fascinating too, was that during this time, Alexander Bell, fresh off his success with the invention of the telephone tried to assist in the process of finding the bullet that was in Garfield’s back near his pancreas, but alas the doctor in charge, Willard Bliss, believed that the bullet lay on the opposite side of the body then where it was. Bell had invented a machine that detected metal and would have been useful if only Bliss had allowed him to search both sides of the President’s body. Needless to say the practice of medicine at that time was not concerned with cleanliness, nor any kind of procedures that we know today are essential. Sadly, the wound was constantly prodded by doctors with unclean hands thereby making Garfield eventually become riddled with sepsis which eventually killed him.
The author was able to capture the spirit of President Garfield portraying him to be a man who believed in racial equality and that education was the road to success for the black population. Ms Millard made the president seem real, a definite inspiration to these around him even as the back biting and patronage system ran rampant through the political spectrum. Garfield lasted for eighty days and many questions were raised at the time about both succession and the ability to lead.
Truly a mesmerizing book and one that I heartily recommend. I only wish, history classes could focus more on the men and women who led this country to where we are today.
5 thoughts on “Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President @candice_millard @doubldaybooks #presidentgarfield #charlesguiteau #assassination #duoreviews @JanBelisle @absltmom”
I’m a firm believer that history books, when written accurately, can be just as enthralling as great fiction. Thank you, ladies, for featuring more non fiction history these past few weeks. You’re making a difference and it matters💜
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Thank you Jonetta!
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This was a great pick for us, at such an important time in history. Excellent review! Thanks for the video link, I’m anxious to watch it.
Great review, ladies. Once more, I had no idea who this man was before I started reading your review. He does seem like an exemplary man. To become a President from nothing requires exceptional courage and hard work. Thanks for sharing!
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You are very welcome, Debjani. Truth be told, Jan and I didn’t really know that much about him either.
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