My book group declared Destiny of the Republic by Candace Millard as the January pick. Really?!

I admit it, eye roll here.

You know, infinite sass. Not readin’ that.

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Hmm. Could I have been more wrong?  And why is this engaging story so unknown?

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Maybe it has something to do with Candace Millard.

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Well yeah! It has everything to do with Candace Millard.  She animated the smallest facts, then connected them seamlessly to tell this obscure story of politics, history, and love. There’s even lots of stalking and bumbling.

 

I’m humbled by Garfield (not the fat orange cartoon cat), a man whose greatness was snuffed short. He was admired for taking strong stands on racial equality. Northerners and Southerners alike appreciated his pragmatic approach and rags-to-riches rise.

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Millard is an ace storyteller. Destiny of the Republic: Madness, Medicine, and Murder of a President is compulsive reading. It’s also copiously notated and indexed (if that’s your thing).

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Polar opposites intersect in the rat-infested smelly White House.  There’s an assassination, medical drama, and a madman. Oh, and that wunderkind Alexander Bell. Millard’s book is made of the stuff you missed in history class. Plus risky business and hairpin twists.

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No spoiler alert required, readers know Garfield died.  But who really killed him?

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Charles J. Guiteau, the loner who bounced from failure to failure, narcissistic, self-absorbed, living on the charity of friends and kindness of his creditors?

 

 

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Dr. Willard Bliss, an arrogant physician who didn’t accept Lister’s sterilization techniques?

“Garfield would have been one of our greatest presidents,” Millard said. “He was incredibly smart and kind and a major advocate for black suffrage, as well as a hero in the Civil War. The bullet that was meant to kill him didn’t hit any vital organs. To remove it today would have been a standard procedure, very easily treatable. Instead, he died three months later of sepsis. It was a tremendous loss to the country. He was widely loved and respected.”

Historians conclude that Garfield died unnecessarily of medical bungling and willful ignorance.  And thus the phrase, “ignorance is bliss”.

I have sometimes thought that we cannot know any man thoroughly well while he is in perfect health. As the ebb-tide discloses the real lines of the shore and the bed of the sea, so feebleness, sickness, and pain bring out the real character of a man.

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Millard includes excerpts from Garfield’s journals, photos, and drawings. She details many dramatic public moments.  But she’s at her best writing about the private ones, the painful agonies, the tests of strength.

If wrinkles must be written upon our brows,let them not be written upon the heart. The spirit should not grow old.

Candice Millard wrote one raging good book.  She digs deep into the research and puts the reader in the front row at the Republican Convention where Garfield somehow went from nominator to nominee. Wow.

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Sorry, political junkies, that’s not happenin’ at any convention soon.

Unless, of course, it does.

Toni 1/26/16 

17 thoughts on “All Presidents Are Not Created Equal

  1. I was so happy to find this post. I thought I was the only one who read this book. I’ve even loaned it to friends with a glowing recommendation and they give it back a couple weeks later but I know they didn’t read it. This is not just great history but a fascinating read. And it also convinced me that Garfield would have been a great president.

    Liked by 1 person

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