Book Review – The Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President

As my quarantine beard hews closer to that of James A. Garfield’s, it is only fitting that my most recent read was this excellent book by Candice Millard.

She fills out a fascinating story of our 20th president who only served for about half a year before being shot by Charles Guiteau. I had a greater understanding of his assassin and the medical malpractice attending his death than the life of President Garfield before this read. Ms. Millard weaves a fascinating narrative informing not only the extraordinary character of Mr. Garfield but also the galaxy of names that surrounded him. This includes everyone from the political luminaries of the day (including Lincoln, Blaine, Grant, Hayes, Arthur and Conkling), but also Guiteau himself, Alexander Graham Bell, Lucretia Garfield and more.

It reads breezily as if it were an Eric Larson tale but is a full on historical record with details both personal and historical. As a history buff I ate this up and enjoyed it thoroughly. While I knew the medical outlines of the errors before Lister’s theory of antisepsis were widely accepted in the U.S., the specifics were fascinating and horrifying. Because of this book I am thoroughly a fan of James A. Garfield, even if I do not agree with all of his politics. His character was commendable and I wish I had the opportunity to have known him.

I heartily recommend the book and enjoyed it immensely.

As always you can find more at and on Twitter @walterthinnes

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