Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President

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Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

Newly elected president James A. Garfield had not allowed the closeness of the 1880 election to dilute his political agenda. Though only four months into his term, he had already appointed numerous officials and taken major initiatives in civil service reform, foreign policy, and civil rights. Then, tragically, on the morning of July 2nd, 1881, a deranged office seeker named Charles J. Guiteau shot the new chief executive. Garfield did not succumb immediately; indeed, he lived for two more months, and, as Candice Millard tells us in this astonishing book, Garfield was not killed by his assassin's bullets, but by his own doctors. A Barnes & Noble Bestseller; now in trade paperback and NOOK Book.

From the Publisher
A New York Times Notable Book

"Crisp, concise and revealing history. . . . A fresh narrative that plumbs some of the most dramatic days in U.S. presidential history."
The Washington Post 

“A spirited tale that intertwines murder, politics and medical mystery. . . . Candice Millard leaves us feeling that Garfield's assassination deprived the nation not only of a remarkably humble and intellectually gifted man but one who perhaps bore the seeds of greatness . . . splendidly drawn portraits. . . . Alexander Graham Bell makes a bravura appearance.”
The Wall Street Journal

"Fascinating. . . . Gripping. . . . Stunning. . . . The haunting tale of how a man who never meant to seek the presidency found himself swept into the White House. . . . Millard shows the Garfield legacy to be much more important than most of her readers knew it to be."
The New York Times

"Destiny of the Republic displays Millard's energetic writing and rare ability to effortlessly educate the listener."
USA Today

"A staggering tale. . . . Millard digs deeply into the turmoil that got James A. Garfield elected, the lunacy that got him shot and the medical malfeasance that turned a minor wound into a mortal one."
—Janet Maslin, Top 10 Recommendations for 2011

“One of the many pleasures of Candice Millard’s new book, Destiny of the Republic, [is] that she brings poor Garfield to life—and a remarkable life it was. . . . Fascinating. . . . Millard has written us a penetrating human tragedy.”
The New York Times Book Review

“Brings the era and people involved to vivid life. . . . Takes the reader on a compelling fly on-the-wall journey. . . . Millard takes all of these elements in a forgotten period of history and turns them into living and breathing things.”
—Associated Press

“Think you’re not interested in James Garfield, our 20th President? Millard’s action-packed account of his life and truly strange death should change your mind.”

Filled with memorable characters, hairpin twists of fate and consequences that bring a young nation to the breaking point, Destiny of the Republic brings back to roaring life a tragic but irresistible historical period.”
The Christian Science Monitor

“A winning amalgamation of history and adventure. They [Millard’s books] exhibit a keen eye for human frailties.”
The Washington Post 

"Fascinating. . . . Millard colorfully recreates the political milieu of 1880."
The Seattle Times

"Millard provides a splendidly written and suspenseful account of this fascinating episode in American history."
The Oregonian

“By keeping a tight hold on her narrative strands, Millard crafts a popular history rich with detail and emotion. One of the pleasures of the book is the chance to learn more about Garfield, who appears as a fully realized historical figure instead of a trivia answer.”

“This tale of physician error contextualized by politics and murder makes for riveting reading. Ms. Millard recounts this episode of our nation’s history in a style that keeps readers on the edge of their seats even though the ending is known.”
The Washington Times

“Splendid. . . . recovers for us just what a remarkable—even noble—man Garfield was. . . . She also chillingly depicts his killer. . . . This wonderful book reminds us that our 20th president was neither a minor nor merely a tragic figure, but rather an extraordinary one.”
The Plain Dealer

“An achingly good, suspenseful read. . . . compelling characters and nail-biting storytelling, and [readers] will no doubt walk away even more emotionally affected by Garfield’s tragedy.”
The Kansas City Star

“Blends science, medicine, and politics in a crime story that grabs tight and it does not let go until the very last page. . . . A remarkable book. It is crisply written and riveting.”
Tucson Citizen

"Millard finds the ironies of history throughout this stirring narrative, one that's full of suspense even though you know what's coming. She makes you a witness, not a reader."
Erie Times

“Destiny of the Republic is popular history at its best—accessible, educational and entertaining—and Millard renders it with grace, power and sympathy.”
Richmond Times-Dispatch

“Make[s] for compulsive reading. Superb American history."
Kirkus, starred review

"Splendidly insightful. . . . stands securely at the crossroads of popular and professional history."
Booklist, starred review

“Sparklingly alive. . . [Millard] brings to life a moment in the nation’s history when access to the president was easy, politics bitter, and medical knowledge slight.  Under Millard’s pen, it’s hard to imagine its being better told.”
Publishers Weekly

“Historian Candice Millard’s Destiny of the Republic is first-rate history, political intrigue, and a true-crime story all rolled into one. . . . An epic must-read!”
—Douglas Brinkley, author of The Wilderness Warrior

“In this brilliant and riveting work, Candice Millard demonstrates the power of narrative nonfiction. Through exhaustive research and flawless storytelling, she has brought to life one of the most harrowing and fascinating sagas in American history. . . . This is a book that is impossible to put down.”
—David Grann, author of The Lost City of Z

“Candice Millard has done it again: She’s turned the sometimes stodgy realm of presidential history on its head with a gripping tale of high danger and stoic endurance, a tale that had nearly completely vanished from public memory. What an exceptional man and what an exciting era Millard has brought to elegant life on the page!”
—Hampton Sides, author of Hellhound on His Trail

“In President Garfield’s assassination, Candice Millard has rediscovered one of the great forgotten stories in American history. Millard has turned Garfield’s story into a crackling tale of suspense and a panoramic picture of a fascinating but forgotten era.”
—Debby Applegate, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for The Most Famous Man in America

“As she did in The River of Doubt, Candice Millard has written another riveting narrative. . . . She has skillfully allowed us to share this traumatic moment.”
—Ken Burns

Kevin Baker
…it is one of the many pleasures of Candice Millard's new book, Destiny of the Republic, that she brings poor Garfield to life—and a remarkable life it was…Millard, whose previous book, The River of Doubt, was about Theodore Roosevelt's near-fatal journey of exploration in South America, is outstanding on this still darker story. She makes, at times, the common biographer's mistake of inflating her subject's importance and virtues…Yet such enthusiasms are understandable concerning such a generally admirable man. Though Garfield's death had little historical significance, Millard has written us a penetrating human tragedy.
—The New York Times Book Review
Del Quentin Wilber
Though a well-known story, it is the kind of crisis that remains ripe for a crisp, concise and revealing history, and Candice Millard delivers just that in Destiny of the Republic, a narrative of [Garfield's] assassination and its aftermath…Millard has crafted a fresh narrative that plumbs some of the most dramatic days in U.S. presidential history.
—The Washington Post
Janet Maslin
"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.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
This rendering of an oft-told tale brings to life a moment in the nation's history when access to the president was easy, politics bitter, and medical knowledge slight. James A. Garfield, little recalled today, gained the Republican nomination for president in 1880 as a dark-horse candidate and won. Then, breaking free of the sulfurous factional politics of his party, he governed honorably, if briefly, until shot by an aggrieved office seeker. Under Millard's (The River of Doubt) pen, Garfield's deranged assassin, his incompetent doctors (who, for example, ignored antisepsis, leading to a blood infection), and the bitter politics of the Republican Party come sparklingly alive through deft characterizations. Even Alexander Graham Bell, who hoped that one of his inventions might save the president's life, plays a role. Millard also lays the groundwork for a case that, had Garfield lived, he would have proved an effective and respected chief executive. Today, he would surely have survived, probably little harmed by the bullet that lodged in him, but unimpeded infection took his life. His death didn't greatly harm the nation, and Millard's story doesn't add much to previous understanding, but it's hard to imagine its being better told. Illus. (Sept.)
Library Journal
Millard (The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey) presents a dual biography of the 20th U.S. President and his assassin. James A. Garfield and Charles Guiteau were both born into hardscrabble Midwestern circumstances. While Garfield made himself into a teacher, Union army general, congressman, and President, Guiteau, who was most likely insane, remained at the margins of life, convinced he was intended for greatness. When he failed to receive a position in Garfield's administration, he became convinced that God meant him to kill the President. At a railway station in the capital, Guiteau shot Garfield barely four months into his term. Garfield lingered through the summer of 1881, with the country hanging on the news of his condition. In September he died of infection, apparently due to inadequate medical care. Millard gives readers a sense of the political and social life of those times and provides more detail on Guiteau's life than is given in Ira Rutkow's James A. Garfield. The format is similar to that in The President and the Assassin, Scott Miller's book on President McKinley and Leon Czolgosz. VERDICT Recommended for presidential history buffs and students of Gilded Age America. [See Prepub Alert, 3/7/11.]—Stephen L. Hupp, West Virginia Univ. Lib., Parkersburg
Kirkus Reviews

The shocking shooting and the painful, lingering death of the 20th president.

"Killed by a disappointed office seeker."Thus most history texts backhand the self-made James Garfield (1831–1881), notwithstanding his distinguished career as a college professor, lawyer, Civil War general, exceptional orator, congressman and all too briefly president. Millard follows up her impressive debut (The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey, 2005) by colorfully unpacking this summary dismissal, demonstrating the power of expert storytelling to wonderfully animate even the simplest facts. As she builds to the president's fatal encounter with his assassin, she details the intra-party struggle among Republicans that led to Garfield's surprise 1880 nomination. The Stalwarts, worshippers of Grant, defenders of the notorious spoils system, battled the Half-Breeds, reformers who took direction from Senators John Sherman and James G. Blaine. The scheming, delusional Charles J. Guiteau, failed author, lawyer and evangelist, listened to no one, except perhaps the voices in his head assuring him he was an important political player, instrumental in Garfield's election and deserving of the consulship to Paris. After repeated rebuffs, he determined that only "removing the president" would allow a grateful Vice President Chester A. Arthur to reward him. During the nearly three excruciating months Garfield lay dying, Alexander Graham Bell desperately scrambled to perfect his induction balance (a metal detector) in time to locate the lead bullet lodged in the stricken president's back. Meanwhile, Garfield's medical team persistently failed to observe British surgeon Joseph Lister's methods of antisepsis—the American medical establishment rejected the idea of invisible germs as ridiculous—a neglect that almost surely killed the president. Moving set pieces—the 1876 U.S. Centennial Exhibition which Garfield attended and where both Lister and Bell presented, the deadlocked Republican Convention, the steamship explosion that almost killed Guiteau, the White House death watch—and sharply etched sketches of Blaine, the overwhelmed Arthur and larger portraits of the truly impressive Garfield and the thoroughly insane Guiteau make for compulsive reading.

Superb American history.

The Barnes & Noble Review

In November 1881, Charles Guiteau, a charlatan suffering from mental illness, stood trial for the assassination of President James Garfield. As part of his erratic defense, Guiteau argued that he should not be charged with murder, because the bullets he fired from his ivory-handled revolver didn't kill the president. Instead, Garfield died as a result of the care he received from his doctors. "I deny the killing, if your honor please, " he said. "We admit the shooting."

Whether they were prompted by insanity or simple desperation in the face of his looming, almost inevitable execution, there was element of truth in Guiteau's ravings. In The Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President, Candice Millard reconstructs the events leading up to and following Garfield's assassination. The murder serves as a lens through which to examine Garfield's life, Guiteau's peripatetic existence, the fortunes of the Republican Party, the political spoils system, the role of scientific invention, and the state of the American medical profession. By keeping a tight hold on her narrative strands, Millard crafts a popular history rich with detail and emotion.

One of the pleasures of the book is the chance to learn more about Garfield, who appears as a fully realized historical figure instead of a trivia answer. A child of a poor family, he worked as a canal driver before attending college at Ohio's Western Reserve Eclectic Institute. During the Civil War, Garfield's leadership of Ohio's 42nd Regiment yielded a bloody victory over Confederate forces at the Battle of Middle Creek, securing Kentucky's allegiance to the Union. Elected to Congress as a Republican, Garfield served nine terms in the House, developing a reputation for oratory and a willingness to dig into financial issues. Drafted to stand for president against his wishes, Garfield entered the White House in 1881 with more than a bit of reluctance.

Unlike Garfield, Guiteau never found his calling. An odd little man, he was by turns a lawyer, a swindler, and a traveling evangelist whose constant movement from city to city made it possible for him to escape the consequences of unpaid bills and delusional behavior. As his fortunes declined, so did his mental state. Having delivered a short speech at a "small gathering" in New York endorsing Garfield's candidacy, Guiteau came to believe that he had orchestrated Garfield's victory. Guiteau spent weeks loitering in the waiting rooms of the White House and State Department, intent on securing an ambassadorship to Vienna or Paris. When the appointment didn't materialize, Guiteau was subject to a divine revelation that came "like a flash" while he lay in bed: God commanded him to kill the ungrateful president.

His mind quickly taken over by this obsession, Guiteau borrowed some money, bought a pistol at a sporting goods store, and commenced stalking the president, an activity that Millard shows to have been shockingly easy, even in a city that had witnessed Lincoln's shooting less than two decades prior. After some false starts, the assassin waited for Garfield in a Washington, D.C. train station on July 2, 1881, and shot him twice in the back. Seized by the crowd, Guiteau gave himself up to the police and asked them to deliver a letter to General Sherman. He expected in short order to be proclaimed a hero.

Millard devotes most of the second half of the book to a revealing chronicle of Garfield's treatment after the attack, and its consequences. American medicine in the 1880s had not yet embraced Joseph Lister's ideas about germs and their role in promoting infection—indeed, many were mounting a furious counterattack against what they considered a nonsensical foreign innovation. Within minutes of Garfield being shot, dirty fingers were inserted into the wounds to feel for the bullets. Millard shows how contemporary ideas about patient care—diet, pain management, the cause of infections, wound care, and sterilization—led to Garfield's death two and a half months later. An invention by Alexander Graham Bell, which could detect the presence of metal, might have been able to locate where one of the bullets had lodged, but the doctor overseeing Garfield's care restricted its use out of concern for his own ego. The once-robust Garfield would lose eighty pounds as his body became a collection of pus-filled abscesses brought on by septic poisoning.

Millard's sympathetic portrayal of Garfield leaves the reader wondering what might have been had he lived. What kind of president would the bookish man from Ohio have turned out to be? The answers to these counterfactuals are outside the purview of Millard's book, but their seeming inevitability attests to her ability to bring to life the man at the center of her story, and his brief entry into the annals of presidential history.

Meredith Hindley is a historian living in Washington, D.C. She is a senior writer for Humanities, the magazine of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and her work also appears in Salon, Lapham's Quarterly, and The New York Times. Reviewer: Meredith Hindley

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780767929714
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 6/12/2012
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 39,198
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Interviews & Essays

Barnes & Noble Exclusive Essay
Destiny of the Republic
By 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.

Q&A with Candice Millard, author of DESTINY OF THE REPUBLIC:

Q: The assassination of President James A. Garfield is a long-forgotten moment in American history. What sparked the idea for DESTINY OF THE REPUBLIC and why do you feel it's important to tell this story?
A: I didn't start out to write about President Garfield. To be honest, I knew very little about him beyond the fact that he had been shot after four months in office. I was interested in Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone. While researching Bell, however, I learned that he had worked night and day, turning his own life upside down, to try to save Garfield's life after the President was shot. I had never before heard this story, and I was fascinated that a genius like Bell would go to such lengths to help another man, even a President. So I wondered what kind of man Garfield was. What I learned was what Bell must have known: that Garfield was, without question, one of the most extraordinary men ever elected President. The more I learned about Garfield, the more I knew I had to tell this story.

Q: Garfield was a self-made man whose extraordinary rise from poverty to the Presidency is the stuff of American legend—congressman, Senator, Civil War general. How did Garfield rise above his humble beginnings? And how did education shape and inform him as a politician?
A: Garfield knew from painful personal experience that the nation's only hope for real progress—for freedom from poverty, ignorance and intolerance—was education. Although he had paid for his first year of college by working as a carpenter and janitor, by his sophomore year he was promoted to professor of literature and ancient languages. By the time he was 26 years old, he was the college president. Even while he was in Congress, Garfield could recite the entire Aeneid by heart, in Latin, and he wrote an original proof of the Pythagorean Theorem. So strong was Garfield's belief in the power of education that it largely defined his years in Congress. He gave countless speeches on the importance of education, argued that the best way to bring the South back into the Union was through the education of its children, advocated the establishment of schools at military camps, and proposed the first federal Department of Education.

Q: DESTINY opens with Garfield attending the 1876 United States Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. Two key men that figured in the electrifying race to save Garfield's life after the assassination—Joseph Lister and Alexander Graham Bell—were exhibitors at the Centennial. Why did Garfield attend? What were Bell and Lister promoting at the Exhibition?
A: Garfield attended the exhibition because he believed in the power of ideas, and he wanted to see what the world's finest minds had achieved. There were no more shining examples of intellectual achievement in the nineteenth century than Alexander Graham Bell and Joseph Lister. Bell, who was only 29 years old, had just invented the telephone, and had brought it to the exhibition to publicly display it for the first time. Lister, a British surgeon, had discovered antisepsis—one of the most important advances in medical history—and had traveled to Philadelphia to try to convince American doctors of the importance of sterilization. Unfortunately for Garfield, and the nation, they were not yet ready to listen.

Q: The spoils system was alive and well in late 19th century U.S. politics, and no one reaped the rewards more than Senator Roscoe Conkling. How was Conkling arguably the most powerful politician in the country? And what was his relationship to Garfield's Vice President, Chester A. Arthur?
A: Conkling was a vain, preening, ruthlessly powerful senator from New York. He tightly controlled the New York Custom's House, which collected 70% of the country's customs revenue, and he expected complete and unquestioning loyalty. Politically, Arthur was utterly Conkling's creation. The only other political position he had held before the vice presidency was as the controller of the New York customs house, a job that Conkling, through President Grant, had given him. Even after the election, Arthur made it clear where his loyalties lay. He vacationed with Conkling, even lived with him in New York, and took every opportunity to publicly criticize the President.

Q: Garfield was surprisingly named the Republican nominee for President at the 1880 Chicago Republican Convention. How did the rivalry between the two factions—the Stalwarts and the Half-Breeds—of the Republican party thrust Garfield to the nomination? And why did Garfield consider the presidency a "bleak mountain" that he was obliged to ascend?
A: Not only was Garfield not a candidate for the Republican nomination in 1880, he didn't want to be one. He had never had what he called "presidential fever." He attended the convention to give a speech nominating another man. So eloquent and powerful was that speech, however that it deeply moved the raucous crowd of 15,000. When the balloting began, to Garfield's shock and horror, delegates began casting their votes for him. Before he knew it, despite his fervent objections, he had won the nomination.

Q: Charles Guiteau, Garfield's deranged assassin, led a peripatetic, lonely life and by 1880 had become obsessed with politics. At that time, the President kept calling hours for the American public Monday through Friday at the White House and Guiteau visited several times. What did Guiteau expect to receive from Garfield? And at what point did he decide to kill the President?
A: This was the height of the spoils system. Not only did many Americans feel entitled to government appointments, regardless of their abilities or experience, but they insisted on making their case directly to the President himself. Garfield was expected to meet with office seekers, one on one, face to face, from 10:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m., every day. The idea of political patronage appealed to no one more than Charles Guiteau. Guiteau had failed at everything he had tried—from law to evangelism to even a free-love commune—but he was deeply, dangerously delusional. He believed that Garfield would not only give him a political appointment, but would make him the consul-general to France. All that was necessary, he believed, was persistence. Guiteau went to the State Department and White House nearly every day for months—even walking into the President's office at one point, while Garfield was in it—expecting to be given the consulship. Finally, frustrated and desperate, he had what he believed was a divine inspiration: God wanted him to kill the President.

Q: On July 2, 1881—four months after his inauguration — Garfield was assassinated by Guiteau at the Baltimore and Potomac Station in Washington. Two shots hit the President, but the bullets didn't kill him. How did the immediate actions of Garfield's doctors—led by Dr. Doctor Bliss—cause more harm than the bullets?
A: By an incredible stroke of luck, the bullet that tore through Garfield's back did not hit his spinal cord or any of his vital organs. Today, he would have spent a few nights in the hospital. Even if his doctors had just left him alone, he almost certainly would have survived. For more than two months, however, Bliss and a small team of doctors repeatedly inserted unsterilized fingers and instruments in the President's back, probing for the bullet. The resulting infection that coursed through Garfield's body was far more lethal than Guiteau's bullet.

Q: First Lady Lucretia Garfield was the center of Garfield's world. Yet their marriage had taken years to blossom. Why was their courtship difficult and how had their marriage changed over the course of 30 years?
A: During the first five years of their marriage, James and Lucretia were separated almost constantly, by Garfield's service during the Civil War and his work in Washington, D.C. Even when they were together, their starkly different personalities—Lucretia was as quiet and private as James was cheerful and outgoing—made it very difficult for them to understand each other. Slowly, however, and after enduring great heartache—from the death of their first child to James's brief affair with a young widow—they fell deeply in love, a love that was as vibrant as it was abiding. "I hear record the most deliberate conviction of my soul," James wrote to Lucretia one night from Washington. "Were every tie that binds me to the men and women of the world severed, and I free to choose out of all the world the sharer of my heart and home and life, I would fly to you and ask you to be mine as you are."

Q: Bliss supervised Garfield's care with an iron fist and complete control, much to the President's detriment. How did Bliss transform the White House into a hospital? And how did he manipulate the public into believing that Garfield's condition was improving, when in fact he was suffering greatly?
A: No one gave Bliss authority over Garfield's medical care. He just took it. He took advantage of the chaos that followed the shooting to establish himself as the President's chief physician, and then he dismissed all the other doctors. So completely did Bliss isolate Garfield in his sick room—refusing nearly all visitors, even the Secretary of State—that rumors began to circulate that the President had died. Bliss began issuing medical bulletins about Garfield's condition, but they were unwaveringly optimistic. Even when Garfield was suffering from severe septicemia, Bliss took great satisfaction in the "healthy pus" issuing from the President's wound, and insisted that his condition was steadily improving. Only in a private letter to a friend did Bliss admit that he feared for the President's life. "I can't afford to have him die," he wrote.

Q: How did Bliss enlist Alexander Graham Bell's help in trying to find the bullet and save Garfield's life? How did Bell's induction balance perform? Where is the device today?
A: Bell was not interested in wealth or fame. He wanted to help people. His wife and his mother were deaf, and he had lost both of his brothers to tuberculosis. He knew that, through his ideas and his inventions, he could improve lives, maybe even save them. When he learned of the President's shooting, he abandoned everything he was working on and devoted all of his time, energy, and genius to saving Garfield. He worked night and day for months to invent an induction balance, basically a metal detector, to find the bullet lodged in the President's body. Bell was ultimately defeated, but not because his invention didn't work. It did work. In fact, it went on to save countless lives before the invention of the medical x-ray. Bell was defeated by the President's own doctors, who didn't tell him that Garfield was lying on a metal-spring mattress—which was very unusual at the time—and wouldn't allow him to test the President's left side, where the bullet actually lay, because Bliss believed—and had publicly stated—that it was on the right. Bell's induction balance is now in the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. The final instrument he used on the President is on display, but Bell built many versions of the invention, desperately trying to perfect it while Garfield lay dying. In 1898, he donated those instruments to the museum's archives, where they remain today.

Q: Garfield spent his last days at the ocean in Elberon, NJ. Can you describe the train journey from the White House to Elberon? Why was dying near the water important to Garfield?
A: Garfield knew that he was dying, and he was determined not to spend his final days in the miserably hot, lonely sick room in the White House. If he could not go home to his beloved farmhouse in Ohio, he wanted to go to the sea. "I have always felt that the ocean was my friend," he had written in his diary just a few weeks before the shooting. "The sight of it brings rest and peace." As a specially outfitted train carried Garfield from Washington to Elberon, thousands of people lined the tracks, watching in silence as their President passed by. Although 2,000 people had worked until dawn to lay enough track to take the President directly to the house where he would be staying, the train could not breach the hill on which the cottage sat. Out of the crowd that had waited for hours for Garfield, two hundred men rushed forward to help, solemnly pushing the train cars to the door of the cottage.

Q: Guiteau's trial became one of the media events of the century, and one of the earliest proceedings in which an insanity defense was asserted. Can you describe Guiteau's courtroom behavior as well as what he considered his defense?
A: In their grief and rage, the American people were determined to see Garfield's assassin hanged for his crime. If any murderer, however, deserved to be found not guilty by reason of insanity, it was Charles Guiteau. Although he was extremely intelligent and incredibly articulate, the more he spoke during his trial, the more apparent his insanity became. He constantly attacked his own lawyer—who was his brother-in-law, the only man in the country willing to represent him—he refuted testimony, questioned witnesses, and even made a public appeal for money. Although he had taken the insanity defense, Guiteau wanted to make it clear that he had been insane only at the time of the shooting—not before, and certainly not after. More important, he argued that, while he had shot the President, Garfield's doctors had killed him. "They ought to be indicted for murdering James A. Garfield," Guiteau wrote in a public statement, "and not me."

Q: Chester Arthur was horrified by Garfield's assassination and even more terrified of becoming President. How did the letters from a mysterious friend transform Arthur from a widely distrusted Vice President into a respected President?
A: After the attempt on Garfield's life, Chester Arthur made a transformation so complete and stunning that no one could believe it. Sickened and grief stricken by the shooting, Arthur hid himself away, refusing even to go to Washington for fear that it would look like he was waiting in the wings. He even cut himself off from Conkling, the man who had made him, and found moral strength in the most unlikely of places—the letters of a young invalid woman named Julia Sand. Sand believed in Arthur when no one else did, when he didn't even believe in himself. While the rest of the world was horrified by the idea of Arthur becoming President, Sand urged him not to walk away. "Do what is more difficult & more brave," she wrote. "Reform!" And, to everyone's astonishment, not least of all his own, Arthur did. He tried to become the President Garfield would have been had he lived. He became an honest and respected leader, and a reform-minded President. Arthur also never forgot Julia Sand. Not only did he keep her letters and write her back, but he even went to see her. Sand had just finished Sunday dinner at her brother's house, when a highly polished carriage pulled up out front. To everyone's astonishment, out stepped the President, who had come to thank one of his most important advisers in person.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 279 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 20, 2011

    Highly recommended

    Candice Millard has a superb narrative style and has written a compelling and fascinating book about the all too short presidency of James Garfield and the ignorant and abysmal state of the medical profession in his day. Garfield was an eloquent genius who, had he lived, would have made a first rate President of the United States. He didn't have to die at that time and the reasons for the mishandling of his recovery from a gun shot wound makes for a truly bone chilling read. A "hard to put down" book!

    40 out of 42 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 13, 2011

    Our Forgotten President

    James Garfield. Do you know who he is? If you posses an average knowledge of history you will probably respond with something like this. "Was he a president or something?" That's it. Not much more is probably known about Garfield and that is pretty distressing. In Candice Millard's recent book, "Destiny of the Republic - A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President" she attempts to right this wrong. This is a fascinating true story of an American who broke the chains of poverty through hard and honest work. Garfield went on to start a family build a home of a farm after saving his money, and continued to better hilself with self-education and would eventually leave a profound mark on this nation. Garfield loved his family and he loved his books. One reporter remarked after interviewing Garfield in his home during the 1880 presidential election, "wherever you looked you were presented with a book". When the Civil War erupted in 1861 Garfield left his family and served the Union and rose through the ranks to General. Towards the end of the war Garfield was elected to Congress without campaigning or asking for the office. His reputation was so strong the office came to him. After entering Congress everyone around him could see that Garfield was honest, fair and open minded in everything he did. Eventually he found himself tangled in the tumultuous presidential election of 1880. Running for the Republican Nomination was Ulysses S. Grant (third term), James G. Blaine and John Sherman. The nomination process went on for 2 days, ballot after ballot failed to claim a winner. Although Garfield, who had just won an Ohio Senate seat was working hard to get Sherman the nomination support slowing ebbed in his direction. Garfield did not want the nomination and worked hard to oppose it. However everyone was tired of the "party politics" at that point and Garfield's reputation was un-like anyone running. Garfield was nominated against his wishes and at the end of the second day was awarded the nomination. As was his work ethic, Garfield who was very uncomfortable with the nomination worked hard for his country and went on to defeat another Civil War hero for the presidency in 1880, Democrat Winfield Scott. Evil lurks all around us. At the same time Garfield was succeeding at everything he tried Charles E. Guiteau was failing. Guiteau attempted it seems everything. From obtaining entrance into college, law work, writing, theology, politics and even marriage he failed miserably in all of them. Guiteau most likely failed at everything because he was insane. During the 1880 election standing on a street corner Guiteau reportedly made a corner speech supporting Garfield. Because of this, Guiteau believed he was "owed" a political job from Garfield. After the election Guiteau haunted the White House and even met the president once, which was not unusual at the time. An office job was refused of course which led to Garfield's murder at Guiteau's hand only 2 months after the election. There is so much more to this excellent book and I highly recommend it to anyone wanting to escape into the past for a brief time and learn something about our 20th president, James A. Garfield. OH, I Almost Forgot If you take the time to read this book you will be angered and upsept that Garfield should have survived the gunshot he sustained. The doctors so botched the work he suffered in misery and slowly died. A tragic fate he surely did not

    25 out of 28 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 27, 2011

    Not "happy" but fascinating account.

    When my four-year-old daughter asked what I was reading, I informed her a "book about a president." Her reply, "boring!" Not at all! This book has been receiving rave reviews for a reason.

    It does not read like a history textbook but a fascinating narrative of a would-be amazing president and a truly one-of-a-kind American. It touches on how his assassination united a torn nation, bringing to mind the way we feel about 9/11 today.

    I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in a fabulous, quick, but not "happy" read.

    16 out of 18 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 29, 2011

    A Much Forgotten Statesman President

    President James Garfield is much neglected in an American History survey course due to the short length of his presidency. Read this book and you will regret that we did not have his wisdom, fairness, honesty, and sense of justice for much longer. It is very poignant at this point in our political circumstances that President Garfield in his time, was able to bring together diverse affiliations - especially between the North and the South. At this death, he even changed the values and priorities of that Conkling underling - the Vice President-now new President Arthur. This book is also a excellent overview of how arrogant and non-believing physicians in the science of germ theory and sepsis did more harm than good in the treatment of our 20th president - President James Garfield.

    13 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 28, 2011

    One of the finest books i have read.

    A fascinating account of an important american and his life. I will review the author's other books after reading them as well!

    9 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2011

    Great book!

    This book kept my attention from beginning to end. I learned a lot about this president.

    8 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 25, 2011

    Read and Rave

    When I first saw this book I was thinking that it would be boring, what with the title and all. However after reading a few pages and of course the synopsis I cannot help but compare it to JFK's story in real life. President killed by a gunshot. Anyway, this is a good book and very much worthy of the price.

    8 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 10, 2012

    A great read!

    A book that tells a sad story about a man who could have gone down a one of the greatest of presidents but instead fallen by the insanity of anassasin.

    6 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 23, 2011

    Good read

    Fastinating storyline, intervoven with historical facts of the time.
    This one was a quick read.
    It's a real shame that James Garfield never serves his full term. He showed the promise of being an historic president in the short time he was in office.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 26, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Highly recommend

    Fantastic read - history buffs will appreciate this book.

    5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 17, 2011

    Excellent! Could not put it down!

    Well written and inspiring! A great portrait of a good man and leader: President James Garfield.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 13, 2012

    Excellent book! Very well written and paced beautifully. I enj

    Excellent book! Very well written and paced beautifully. I enjoyed this book so much I read her previous book, River of Doubt. Ms. Millard is an excellent writer and she should be encouraged. I finished this book and attempted to read "The President and the Assassin" and that book is nowhere near as good as this one. Highly recommend this book and her "River of Doubt." She is on my short list of outstanding authors.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 5, 2012

    Among the interesting facts in the well-researched, well-written

    Among the interesting facts in the well-researched, well-written and well-paced book are:

    1) Garfield did NOT want the Democratic nomination for Presidential candidate when it was thrust upon him at the DNC. He had never agreed to having his name put forward and was horrified when the Democrats insisted. I can’t help thinking how perhaps the people who want to be president the most are the ones we should refuse to elect.

    2) How about this for an electioneering attitude: “Traveling from town to town and asking for votes was considered undignified for a presidential candidate. Abraham Lincoln had not given a single speech on his own behalf during either of his campaigns, and Rutherford B. Hayes advised Garfield to to the same.” Garfield agreed wholeheartedly. He tilled his fields, built an irrigation system, harvested his crops and generally ignored all the bad political behavior. In October a singing group from the all-black university in Nashville “came to Garfield’s modest farmhouse and sang for him.” It was apparently a most moving performance, especially for Garfield who had been since earliest childhood a vehement Abolitionist. When the singers finished he said, “I tell you now, in the closing days of this campaign, that I would rather be with you and defeated than against you and victorious.” I wonder who would dare say that today?

    Of course, sadly, Garfield was shot shortly after taking office and served only six month as President. The shortest term of all. A great pity.

    The medical passages here are grueling. The arrogance of the medical establishment at the time insisted there was no reason for antiseptic. The number of unwashed fingers probing the presidential wound is stomach-churning, as are the rats, raw sewage seeping through the White House, and general filth. The bullet, we learn, was not the cause of the president's death. It was the subsequent, physician-caused infection. A hideous and slow death by sepsis.

    I found this book touching, tragic and a real eye opener. Arrogance, hypocrisy, political wrangling, lies, the oppression of the poor, robber barons -- all the things we think are specific to the present are, in fact, present in the past. We would to well to cast an eye back and learn some hard lessons. The great gift of history such as this is that it can act as a canary in a coal mine. It makes one think how much better we could, and should do.

    I finished the book wondering at the great loss of such a thoughtful, intelligent, deeply moral man. What might have been different had he lived?

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2011

    A Lesson in Gratitude

    How grateful I am to Millard for not only introducing me to Garfield, who I am sure would have been one of our country's most stellar presidents, but for reminding me just how fortunate I am to live now, when we have it "easy" as compared to those who lived in the late 1800s. It was fascinating to see A. G. Bell in action and reading how hard he tried to do something, anything, to ease Garfield's suffering--the heroism of both men was so astonishing that I found myself believing them more fictional than real. Millard scraps the scabby egos of men like Bliss, Conkling, and Guiteau-three real villains -and allows each man to ¿hang¿ himself for all time simply by virtue of his own behavior.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2013


    Absolutely beautifully written. Such an ellegant retelling. It really makes you fall in love with so many characters, especially A. G. Bell, Garfield, his wife, and his secretary. Best book I have read in awhile. It is so informative and so captivating, and VERY hard to put down. I would most definitely recommend it to anyone. So superb!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 23, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Highly Recommended

    A great book I would highly recommended reading! It gave me much insight to the Life of this President, and amazing man.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 22, 2012

    Great read

    Millard does an outstanding job of making what could be very dry material come to life.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 5, 2012

    Very Interesting and well written book

    Very good book. Very well written book about a fascinating piece of American history that I knew very little about. I came away with a great appreciation for Garfield plus the frustration of knowing that he could and should have lived.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 26, 2012

    Great book

    Felt like you were there.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 23, 2012

    Three amazing stories in one

    Until I read Candice Millard's DESTINY of the REPUBLIC I had no idea the kind of man James Garfield was and the kind of President he might have become. In fact, I really had no inkling at all who James Garfield was other than briefly our 20th President. He was a man who was able to unite the North and South even after his death. But the other incredible stories involve his shooter, Charles Guiteau, and the medical professionals supposedly treating President Garfield.

    Millard brings a very human portrayal to the man James Garfield. His strong belief in equality for all humans, his distaste for politics and the "rewards system" then common in government, and his personal side as a husband (although far from perfect) and father, and friend.

    The author brings up the subject of the insanity defense. Guiteau most likely was insane. But the country as a whole demanded his execution. And yet Millard brings up the point that Guiteau's execution really did not change things. It did not really provide closure for Garfield's immediate family. How could it? And it did not change the way America (or the Secret Service) looked at protection of our future Presidents from would be assassins.

    But the third story was the most maddening. That the American medical profession at the time could completely ignore the recently recognized treatment to prevent infection (antisepsis) and instead put their patient, James Garfield, through horrendous pain, agony, and ultimately a needless death. Today this would have been considered as malpractice.

    I first read Candice Millard's book on Theodore Roosevelt THE RIVER of DOUBT and greatly enjoyed her writing and telling of that story. Her handling of DESTINY of the REPUBLIC is right up there as a must read book. As an aside I find it interesting that she writes of two great Republicans; Theodore Roosevelt and James Garfield. What happened to the Republican Party? Where are men like these two individuals? Roosevelt believed in a strong military and believed we needed to take care of and protect our public lands. Garfield believed in equality and unifying America. I think that the present Republican Party should look back into their own history and ask themselves why aren't there great men like Roosevelt and Garfield running for the Presidency today? A party that once was a protector of our natural resources and of equality and acceptance.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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