Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President

Written by Candice Millard
Review by Kristen Hannum

James A. Garfield didn’t want to be president; he didn’t seek the nomination and didn’t campaign after being nominated against his wishes. He was elected in 1880 all the same and took office in March 1881. He was shot on July 2 and died September 19. His brief stint in the White House might not seem to have much potential, but Destiny of the Republic is history as good as it gets.

Millard threads the stories of Garfield, an extraordinary scholar, politician, and family man; a delusional assassin, fueled by the heated political rhetoric of the time; and Thomas Edison, who dropped everything else in order to invent something that could locate the bullet within Garfield that his physicians couldn’t find. An integral part of the story is the president’s abysmal medical care. Most American physicians, including Garfield’s, mocked the importance of sterilizing their instruments or even washing their hands before poking around inside a patient.

Millard doesn’t waste a word in this gripping account; it’s a quick read. The book is filled with marvelous historical details in addition to its potent story of greatness snuffed short. Read Destiny of the Republic and see if you don’t also have a new president on your list of favorites. Recommended.