Thursday, December 1, 2011

Garfield Assassinated, Hates Mondays

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard tells the fascinating true story of the assassination of President James Garfield. This episode in American history is not very well known, but it is an incredibly interesting story about, as the title indicates, madness, medicine, and murder. This book tells the whole story of Garfield’s short presidency and long, difficult death. The book starts at Garfield’s unusual nomination for president, and ends with the trial and death of his assassin. Charles Guiteau, a mentally unstable man, former cult member, and deluded political office seeker, shot Garfield after he believed he received instructions from God to do so. However, the bullet did not immediately kill Garfield, that job was left to his team of doctors who treated Garfield without using sterile medical practices despite a growing world-wide movement to practice antiseptic surgery. The book also chronicles the work of Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, who worked to create an induction balance in hopes of locating the bullet inside the President’s body. However, the work done by Bell and the doctors as well as the prayers of an entire nation could not save Garfield from the infection spreading throughout his body that was caused by his doctors poking and prodding his wound with their bare, unclean fingers and performing surgery without sterile tools. After over two months of suffering, Garfield died from what an autopsy revealed to be profound septic poisoning. Millard writes about the final moments of the President’s life in a very touching and emotional way. While many nonfiction historical writings can be detached and unemotional, Millard writes in a way that makes the reader feel the pain of Garfield’s friends, children, and widow. The book’s narrative writing style is incredibly assessable even t o those who do not usually read nonfiction which makes this book very readable and enjoyable for everyone. Millard’s account is a well-researched, well-written, and touching telling of the work done to save a president's life, the delusions of his would-be assassin, and his eventual death.

Alison W.

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