James Garfield Dies In The End

In Books on February 11, 2013 at 10:11 am

This past week I was perusing my Kindle looking for a decent book to read and came across Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President. I thought right from the get go, this sounded like a damn good story and boy was I not disappointed.

Destiny of the Republic, written by Candace Miller, tells the story of James Garfield the 20th President of the United States who was extremely reluctant to become President, so reluctant in fact that while he was being nominated for the Republican party he did not vote for himself and tried to get others to vote against him. Sweet Jesus this guy was modest. The novel connects the life and work of Alexander Graham Bell, Joseph Lister, the guy who pioneered antiseptics and created LISTERINE SWEET JESUS, and Charles J. Guiteau the psychotic assassin that would fire the bullet taking the life of President Garfield. All of these individuals come together in this gripping novel showing just how little we knew back then.

Miller’s writing is extremely well researched but not historically boring. Much like Erik Larson’s Thunderstruck or The Devil in the White City, Miller paints an amazing narrative linking the lives of the four aforementioned men. Describing the conviction that Bell had to his cause as well as describing just how well Garfield experienced his wound and his eventual death. It is very well written keeping me tuned in page after page until the very tragic ending.

This brings me to another point, I am an idiot. Knowing nothing of Garfield’s presidency, I thought he would get shot and get better with the help of modern medicine. Damn you Hollywood for making me yearn for amazing endings where everything ends up in a happy conclusion! Sadly, this does not happen, as many of you who know anything about history, Garfield became the second President to be assassinated. However, this is not the most tragic part of the story because it wouldn’t be a very good story if it was. The most tragic part concerns the relationship doctors had with modern medicine and some of the extremely awful beliefs that they had regarding the healing process. Pus? That’s great! Let’s  not wrap that gash in a nice clean cloth, let’s take that dirty one off the floor and just soak it. That should do the trick. Germs? They don’t exist! I knew medicine was bad, but I did not know that it was this bad.

Miller depicts the state of medicine with a vivid cringeworthyness. It will make you queasy at some points. But one thing it won’t do, is make you want to stop reading it. It is a damn good book and you will burn through it, especially if you like historical novels.


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