Destiny of the Republic

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

The author was inspired to write this book when she was reading a biography of Alexander Graham Bell. This famous inventor, courted by people from around the world due to his invention of the telephone five years before, set aside all his other projects to try to create an instrument that would help heal President Garfield by locating the assassin’s bullet. Her research led her to discover the character of this “minor” President, shot four months into his tenure.

Though barely remembered today, James Garfield was larger than life: a robust and cheerful man, a passionate abolitionist, a reformer who fought against the ingrained political machines and the spoils system. He was a great orator, a devoted father, and a hero of the Civil War. Raised in poverty, he was a gifted scholar who won a position as a university president when only 26 years old. He had not sought a nomination for President, but was put on the ballot as a compromise candidate and, in a long and suspenseful session, was chosen as a candidate for the 20th president of the United States.

Intertwined with this story is the tale of con man Charles Guiteau, who wormed his way into the White House until his delusions led to the belief that he had divine orders to kill the President. When Garfield was shot his suffering had only begun as doctors jockeyed to become his physician and politicians maneuvered to grab power when he couldn’t work. This is narrative nonfiction at its best—suspenseful, full of interesting information and well written. The audio version, voiced by Paul Michael, is also well done.

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