Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness

Oct 12, 2015

Today I am recommending, Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard. It is the story of the 20th president of the United States, James Garfield.  Most people who know of him only really know that he was the president who was assassinated soon after taking office, but as with any true story, there is so much more involved.

The first half of the book introduces us to a boy raised by a single mother, who was gifted with a brilliant mind. He grows to be a scholar, a professor of literature and ancient languages, well versed in math and the sciences and was as reluctant of a president as the United States is likely to ever have. Millard writes of political divisions within the Republican Party and Garfield's battles with New York Senator Roscoe Conkling who pulled the strings of everyone in the party, including the vice president.

The assassination occurs half way in the book and it turns into a sort of medical drama about doctors who battle for the opportunity to treat the president. But because of their arrogant refusal to believe in the existence of germs, they end up holding just as much blame in Garfield’s death as the madman who pulled the trigger. And if that isn’t enough, let’s throw in Alexander Graham Bell, and his genius, into the story with his attempts to assist with the location of the bullet by using his new invention, the metal detector.

One of the most admirable things about this book is Millard’s research. She weaves all this information so well and with such liveliness, it feels like you are reading a novel. We learn enough about Garfield to understand that he would have made an exemplary president.

If you are interested in this book, or Millard’s other title, The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey, come by the library and check it out.  You can also ask about other non fiction titles that read as compellingly as a novel.

Support for Check It Out comes from Avery Brothers.