Destiny of the Republic

November 9, 2011 at 8:28 PM | Posted in Books, Great People | 7 Comments
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Even before finishing Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard, I based my opening remarks to our Customer Advisory Board on the many thoughts that have raced through my mind from the first page on. Now that I’ve finished listening to it, I name it great.

It is the story of the assassination of President James Garfield in 1881, the almost mesmerizing nut who shot him and the doctor who, in the end killed him with a stubborn ignorance that even then, in those fledgling scientific days, seemed crazy. Soon after the President, only four months in office, died other doctors declared that if his physician had done nothing, left  the man alone, he would have recovered. Instead, he pushed unwashed fingers and instruments into the wound. Garfield lingered in agony for 80 days before succumbing.

It is a book filled with names. We learn that Alexander Graham Bell worked feverishly (literally) to invent an instrument that would locate the lead bullet in Garfield’s body. Just as he thought he had perfected it, Dr. Bliss (and someone soon commented that “Ignorance is Bliss”) would only allow him to test the side of the body where the Doctor thought the bullet resided. Of course, once an autopsy was done, the bullet was found on the other side.

This is the type of story that, even though you know the end result, you still hope for a different ending.

Nearby to where I live there is a Garfield Street. He is portrayed in the book as a particularly intelligent and even wise man. He is worth learning about.


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  1. Dammit, another book I now want to read! Would you please slow down on the recommendations. I can’t read that fast and the growing ‘waiting-to-be-read’ pile is attracting criticism!

    • It is true that I have been on a phenominal run of great books … it is thrilling to a simple man like myself. Destiny is really good. That assasin – oy vey.

  2. I got that book from my local library, but I must confess, I lacked the courage to read it. I don’t think I could endure reading about the agony of Garfield and his inept doctors. I admire your courage Tom in reading it.
    Having said that, most physicians up to the start of the 20th century where locked in nearly medieval practices.
    Some of that still continnues among midwives in the 3rd world. I recall reading about “birthing kits” distributed by the UN in remote areas. They said that the most valuable life saving instrument within those kits were “25 cent bars of Ivory Soap.”
    Just washing ones hands in soap saved lives.

    • I thought when I was reading it that surely Bill T had read it. Right up your alley.

  3. Thanks, Tom! This has been on my list for a while and I look forward to getting to it all the more, now. Have you read Millard’s other presedential bio River of Doubt (

    I recommend it! Check out also the new book recommendation thread in our forum at work…

  4. Seems like this post should also have a “Candice Millard” tag…

    • Done. Thanks for the pick-up.

      I did read her Roosevelt book when I was going through a major Teddy phase. I recently went to her website and according to those pictures, she is one good looking historian.

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