"The Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President” by Candice Millard

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Candice Millard, in her second book of history “The Destiny of the Republic,” exposes an elusive chapter in American history, telling a tale of a mad assassin and the medical mash-up that ended in the murder of a remarkable President, father, husband and friend.    

Most of us think that on James A. Garfield was shot and killed by an assassin. Gunned down in Washington DC’s Union Station by Charles Guiteau, a deranged narcissist, Garfield falls to the floor with the bullet lodged in his lower back. Guiteau is arrested and put on trial—the first case where the insanity plea was used. Garfield is taken to a team of doctors at the White House, and, in Millard’s capable hands, the saga of “saving the life of a President” takes off like a straw house on fire. Garfield died, in his doctor’s care, two and a half months after being shot.     

Millard pulls several narrative strings together with great skill. First is Garfield’s story, that of a likeable and erudite man from Ohio who reluctantly becomes his party’s choice for President. Meanwhile, Guiteau, having proven a nuisance to the White House in a deluded quest to be named the Paris Consulate, receives a divine message to kill the President for the good of the country.   

Finally, Garfield’s ego-driven doctor futilely tries to locate the bullet by probing the President’s back with his fingers and allowing the infected areas to drain – ignoring the recent European discovery of the critical importance of anti-sepsis care.  Following on the success of her first book “River of Doubt,” Millard once again tells a riveting story in "The Destiny of the Republic."   

Review by Sarah Bagby

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President Cover Image
ISBN: 9780385526265
Availability: Hard to Find. This book may be unable to order.
Published: Doubleday - September 20th, 2011