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review 2015-10-21 19:31
Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard
Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President - Candice Millard

It is without hesitation that I give this biography 5 stars and wish that I could give it more. Everything about this book is wonderfully done, resulting in nonfiction that is every bit as captivating as any novel. I knew next to nothing about James Garfield before listening to this book, but I am happy to have been introduced to him.


What an amazing person to be elected to the presidency despite his own reluctance to even participate in the Republican nominations. The US, still reeling from the effects of the Civil War, finally had found a man that they could unite behind. Garfield was intelligent, well-spoken, and kind. Unlike other politicians, he did not look for personal advancement but hoped to do his part to improve the country he served. 


'For mere vengeance I would do nothing. This nation is too great to look for mere revenge. But for security of the future I would do every thing.'


This book is written to fully immerse the reader in the late 19th century. Beginning with a stroll through the 1876 World's Fair to establish the state of technology and medicine of the era, Millard goes on to describe the parallel paths that would bring Garfield and his murderer, Charles Guiteau, together on July 2, 1881. 


Although Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated not 20 years earlier, protection for the president was not only seen as unnecessary, but un-American. The leader of our democratic land should be fully accessible to those who had raised him up. Lincoln's death was seen more as an act of war than the killing of a president. Therefore, Garfield moved about DC with no more protection or guard than the average gentleman.


Watching events fall into place, I felt tense, wishing that I could change the course of history. But this story does not end with Garfield being shot.


'A noble life crowned with heroic death, rises above and outlives the pride and pomp and glory of the mightiest empire of the earth.'


As Guiteau argued at his trial, Garfield was truly murdered by his doctors, in particular Willard Bliss. Though it would not save him, Guiteau was correct. Doctors who ignored medical advances, such as those that had been demonstrated at the 1876 World's Fair, literally put Garfield through hell, causing the healthy, robust man to fall from 210 pounds to 130 pounds during the two months of treatment. Bliss was disdainful of those who lobbied for the sterilization of instruments and surgical rooms. Listening to the treatment of Garfield that caused his slow and painful decline was worse than heartbreaking. It was stomach churning.


Garfield's character was expertly revealed through the quotes inserted into the text. A country mourned over his eminent death as he remained cheerful. He endured painful and unnecessary procedures, yet never doubted his physicians judgement. Though filled with raging infection, unable to eat, and in agony, his first thought was always for his wife. He truly made those around him want to be better men in order to honor him.


One of those men was his vice president, Chester Arthur. Chosen as Garfield's running mate with low expectations, Arthur would prove himself capable of changing and becoming a successor that would have made Garfield proud.


Alexander Bell is another participant in this drama. A teacher for the deaf, Bell is also dedicated to inventions that can improve the lives of others. He works feverishly to create a device that can locate the bullet within Garfield's body that the doctors insist is the root of his problems. His frustration is palpable when he realizes that it was Bliss's incompetence (again) that caused his work to fail.


So many personalities shine through the years since these events all occurred because of the excellent writing and research included in this book. It was inspiring, educational, heart-wrenching, and captivating. Highly recommended.


'We hold reunions, not for the dead, for there is nothing in all the earth that you and I can do for the dead. They are past our help and past our praise. We can add to them no glory, we can give to them no immortality. They do not need us, but forever and forever more we need them.'

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text 2015-10-19 14:49
Reading Update: 50% Complete
Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President - Candice Millard

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text 2015-10-14 13:48
Reading Update: 5% Complete
Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President - Candice Millard

I'm just starting this book on audio and love it so far. Great narrative writing style is bringing this nonfiction to life. I have to admit that I know next to nothing about James Garfield, so this is captivating and educational for me. The author is using the 1876 World's Fair in Philadelphia to place the reader within the time period, examining new inventions (Bell's telephone), the state of the medical field (antiseptic? whatever), and fun tidbits like the US's lack of a national anthem. I'm already worried about being sad at the end.

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review 2013-07-05 00:00
Follow My Leader - James B. Garfield This totally reminded me of one of those black and white short films that were mocked sometimes on MST3K before the real movie. Everyone is perfect, and those who sometimes aren't learn their lessons and become perfect. However, with the MST3K guys riffing the worst parts along with me in my head, I was actually able to enjoy this.

It was interesting to get to accompany Jimmy as he learned to deal with his blindness. It was fascinating to learn about both how he was able to get around with his cane and then about the process of applying for and obtaining a guide dog.

And I did appreciate (with some good-natured sarcastic mockery) that his friends went through the process with him so I was able to see things from their perspective as well.

This is another one I'm looking forward to recommending to my students. When we do our unit on light and optics, there are always some who have endless questions about being blind. This will be a fantastic book for them to read to get some answers.

Favorite Quotes:
Sirius wove in and out among the people on the sidewalk. He would see an opening and make for it, judging the space so accurately that Jimmy never bumped into anyone. If a group was blocking the sidewalk, Sirius put his nose against the calf of a leg and pushed. Looking down, the person would see the large dog and step aside quickly, making a clear path.
Jimmy didn't know why he could walk down a crowded sidewalk and have so much room. One day Mr. Weeks told Jimmy what was happening. "Don't let your dog crowd through people, Mr. Carter," he added, "or you will become unpopular."
"How can I stop him?" Jimmy asked.
"I guess you'll have to teach him manners," Mr. Weeks answered.
"He's got manners, Mr. Weeks, but they're bad." Jimmy grinned.
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review 2011-05-26 00:00
Follow My Leader - James B. Garfield And another book about a blind kid that I loved as a child. Just to make a theme of it.
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