Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President
I took it as my reading sign when Suzanne picked this narrative nonfiction book on WSIRN episode 242, describing it as "gripping." Millard weaves together three strands—politics, medicine, and technology to tell the story of James Garfield, the 20th president of the United States, who only served 200 days because he was shot and eventually died. The world of the late 1800s was just starting to understand germs and antiseptic and washing, but the whole country was lying in absolute agony for months while people were wondering, can we save him? Historic cameo: Alexander Graham Bell, who you'll remember as inventor of the telephone, plays a part as he worked around the clock, desperate to invent a device to find the bullet without injuring the president further.
James A. Garfield was one of the most extraordinary men ever elected president. Born into abject poverty, he rose to become a wunderkind scholar, a Civil War hero, and a renowned and admired reformist congressman. Nominated for president against his will, he engaged in a fierce battle with the corrupt political establishment. But four months after his inauguration, a deranged office seeker tracked Garfield down and shot him in the back.
But the shot didn’t kill Garfield. The drama of what happened subsequently is a powerful story of a nation in turmoil. The unhinged assassin’s half-delivered strike shattered the fragile national mood of a country so recently fractured by civil war, and left the wounded president as the object of a bitter behind-the-scenes struggle for power—over his administration, over the nation’s future, and, hauntingly, over his medical care. A team of physicians administered shockingly archaic treatments, to disastrous effect. As his condition worsened, Garfield received help: Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone, worked around the clock to invent a new device capable of finding the bullet.
Meticulously researched, epic in scope, and pulsating with an intimate human focus and high-velocity narrative drive, The Destiny of the Republic will stand alongside The Devil in the White City and The Professor and the Madman as a classic of narrative history.