Friday, October 19, 2012

October Book Club -- Destiny of the Republic

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a PresidentDestiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard
My enjoyment rating: 4 of 5 stars
Source: Personal copy
Genre:  Non-fiction; presidential history
Objectionable material: none (unless you get woozy at descriptions of oozing infectious masses).

Clorox wipes? Hand sanitizer? Soap and water?

So many “sanitary” tools that we use to keep our modern day world germ free.

Not so in the late 1880s. And it ultimately proved fatal to our 20th president, James Garfield.

Candice Millard builds an engaging multi-layered narrative around the humble life of James Garfield, his insane stalker Charles Guiteau, his team of highly trained (for the time period), but completely inept doctors, and one very popular inventor, Alexander Graham Bell.

To look at this work with modern 21st century eyes you gasp with the thought of -- how on earth could this have happened: A president unguarded with a stalker on the loose, medical professionals probing an injured body with filthy instruments and fingers, and a family waiting in agony as their beloved father and husband writhes in septic infection.

This was a very informative book – I knew nothing of Pres. Garfield. He was a footnote at the bottom of any history book. But he was a man beloved by a nation, who had no desire to become President of the United States. But when called upon, he accepted the nomination.

My only grumble – the writing was a bit flat and a few of the storylines felt incomplete. For instance, when describing Garfield’s romance/courting with his wife Lucretia, in once sentence you get the sense that it is a glorious romance, in the next line you aren’t sure whether they love each other at all. It was fuzzy at best.

Overall however, this was a remarkable history lesson about a man and a president where you can honestly say, “oh, what might have been...”


wordandcraft said...

I really wish I could have made it to the discussion. I am really enjoying this book--yes, I admit, once I realized I wouldn't make it, I slacked on completing in time. I understand what you are saying about the writing be a bit flat in places, but I think part of that is a hazard of working with history where you might not have all the details necessary to bring more life. The courtship did seem strange, though.

As a fellow nonfiction writer, I was impressed with how well Millard wove the different elements (Guiteau, medical practices, Bell's work on the telephone, etc...)into Garfield's story. And I loved the detail about a young Sousa leading a band in the inaugural festivities. Great pick, Melissa!

Tina's Blog said...

I really liked this book - and like you, I had no prior knowledge of President Garfield. I was most amazed by the president's medical care. Very scary.

Kimberlee said...

Hi, nice to meet you. I am one of your newest members to your blog and I noticed that we share a love of historical fiction. I will be keeping up with your blog and hope you will join me at mine:

Hope to see you there. Happy reading.

Amused said...

I often find books like this interesting but a little dry. I too know nothing about this president so I bet it would be worth a read.