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Book Review

July 12, 2012
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‘Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President’

Courtesy of Beaverdale Books

Review by Harriet Leitch

By Candice Millard

Anchor Books



432 pp

Candice Millard, the bestselling author of “The River of Doubt,” which chronicled Teddy Roosevelt’s Amazon River exploration, has turned her considerable talent to the subject of James Garfield’s presidency, which was shortened by assassination.

President Garfield, who came from humble beginnings, served in the Civil War and several terms as Congressman, developed a reputation as a fine orator. He did not seek the nomination of his party, but was drafted as the compromise candidate after the three candidates failed to attain the nomination. Thus he became the 20th President of the United States, destined to serve only 200 days.

President Garfield was in the train station on his way to the seaside to join his recently ill wife, Lucretia, when a deranged political office-seeker, Charles Guiteau, shot him in the back on July 2, 1881. The doctors examined the wound with unsterile instruments and unwashed fingers, all in search of the bullet. This created a horrible infection in an era before antibiotics. The president lingered for many days, enduring repeated examinations. An inventor, Alexander Graham Bell, was called upon in the search for the bullet, using the induction balance device he developed.

The overwhelming infection eventually led to Garfield’s death on Sept. 19, 1881. In his short term, he expressed his belief in civil rights for the former slaves in his inaugural address and worked to end the patronage system, which had inspired his assassin. Garfield’s vice president, Chester Arthur, signed the civil service reform legislation.

Millard fills “Destiny of the Republic” with material from original source documents, bringing the reader into the story in a very compelling manner. CV

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