Destiny of the Republic (Millard)

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President
Candice Millard, 2011
Knopf Doubleday
432 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780767929714

James A. Garfield was one of the most extraordinary men ever elected president. Born into abject poverty, he rose to become a wunderkind scholar, a Civil War hero, and a renowned and admired reformist congressman.

Nominated for president against his will, he engaged in a fierce battle with the corrupt political establishment. But four months after his inauguration, a deranged office seeker tracked Garfield down and shot him in the back.

But the shot didn’t kill Garfield. The drama of what hap­pened subsequently is a powerful story of a nation in tur­moil. The unhinged assassin’s half-delivered strike shattered the fragile national mood of a country so recently fractured by civil war, and left the wounded president as the object of a bitter behind-the-scenes struggle for power—over his administration, over the nation’s future, and, hauntingly, over his medical care.

A team of physicians administered shockingly archaic treatments, to disastrous effect. As his con­dition worsened, Garfield received help: Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, worked around the clock to invent a new device capable of finding the bullet.

Meticulously researched, epic in scope, and pulsating with an intimate human focus and high-velocity narrative drive, The Destiny of the Republic will stand alongside The Devil in the White City and The Professor and the Madman as a classic of narrative history. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—ca. 1968
Education—Baker University; M.A., Baylor University.
Currently—lives in Kansas City, Missouri, USA

Candice Sue Millard is an American writer and journalist. She is a former writer and editor for National Geographic and the author of The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey, a history of the Roosevelt–Rondon Scientific Expedition, Theodore Roosevelt's exploration of the Amazon Rainforest in 1913 and 1914. The book was published in 2005. Millard's second book, Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine & the Murder of a President, was released in 2011. Both books have been best sellers.

Millard is a graduate of Baker University, Baldwin City, Kansas, and earned a master's degree in literature from Baylor University. She lives in Kansas City with her husband and three children. (From Wikipedia.)

Book Reviews
Fascinating......Gripping.....Stunning....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. . . . Ms. Millard shows the Garfield legacy to be much more important than most of her readers knew it to be.
Janet Maslin - New York Times

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… Outstanding….Millard has written us a penetrating human tragedy.
Kevin Baker - New York Times Book Review

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.
Wall Street Journal

Brings the era and people involved to vivid life….. Millard takes the reader on a compelling fly on-the-wall journey with these two men until that fateful day in a train station when Guiteau shot Garfield….. Millard takes all of these elements in a forgotten period of history and turns them into living and breathing things. The writing immerses readers into the period, making them feel as though they are living at that time. Comparisons to Erik Larson's The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America are justified, but Destiny of the Republic is better.
Associated Press

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.
Publishers Weekly

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. —Stephen L. Hupp, West Virginia Univ. Lib., Parkersburg
Library Journal

Discussion Questions
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Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for Destiny of the Republic:

1. Before you started this book, how much did you know of James A. Garfield? Do you agree with Millard that Garfield would have been considered one of the country's great presidents? Is Millard's case for Garfield potential greatness convincing?

2. How would you describe James Garfield? Discuss his numerous accomplishments outside the field of politics. What do you find most impressive about him?

3. To what degree did Garfield's early years shape the man he later became? How do you account for his spectacular rise? In fact, trace his steps as he rose from his work on the Erie and Ohio Canal to become President of the United States.

4. Talk about the convention madness that catapulted Garfield into the candidacy for the U.S. presidency. Compare the political environment of the time: would you describe it as more polarized than today's...or similar?

5. What were Garfield's political views?

6. Charles Giteau was no stranger to Garfield or to members of his family and administration. He also made his intentions to murder the president quite clear. What could/should have been done, within legal bounds, to prevent him from carrying out his assassination of Garfield? Talk about Guiteau. How would you chararacterize the madness that led to his carrying out the assassination?

7. Perhaps the most shocking revelations in Destiny of the Republic are those concerning the maltreatment at the hand of the Garfield's doctors, who seemed almost willfully ignorant of sound medical practices. How do you explain their mistreatment? What was the medical establishment's attitude toward Joseph Lister's theory on antisepsis? How did Dr. Bliss gain so much power of the president's medical care?

8. Discuss the patronage system and the way in which Americans felt entitled to government appointments regardless of competency. Would you say that today's system, based on merit, is an improvement, even though it can be difficult to remove  underperforming employees?

9. Why was the courtship between Lucretia and James Garfield so difficult? Talk about the fault lines in their marriage and later their deep attachment to one another.

10. Talk about how Garfield's participation in the Civil War affected him. He made the comment later that "something went out of him...that never came back; the sense of sacredness of life and the impossibility of destroying it." What did he mean? Is his disillusionment common for soldiers of any war? Or was the Civil War particularly savage?

11. Talk about Roscoe Conkling and his relationship with President Chester Arthur. How would you describe Chester's subsequent administration after Garfield's assassination?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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