Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard
Format: Hardcover and ebook
Publication Date: 2011
From the publisher:
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.
I had seen so many good reviews of this book I was expecting it to be good and I wasn’t disappointed at all. It’s the story of President Garfield, his assassin, madicine in late 19th century and of Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of an early metal detector to attempt to find the bullet inside Garfield’s body.
Garfield was shot on July 2nd but didn’t die until September 19th. AT that time there were not secret service or bodyguards for the President.The story of the ‘medical’ care he received during that time is horrifying compared to modern knowledge. It was completely normal for doctors to stick unsterilized fingers into the Presiden’ts wound in attempts to locate the bullet.
Science would soon exceed even Bell’s expectations. Had Garfield been shot just fifteen years later, the bullet in his back would have been quickly found by X-ray images, and the wound treated with antiseptic surgery. He might have been back on his feet within weeks. Had he been able to receive modern medical care, he likely would have spent no more than a few nights in the hospital.
Even had Garfield simply been left alone, he almost certainly would have survived. Lodged as it was in the fatty tissue below and behind his pancreas, the bullet itself was no continuing danger to the president. “Nature did all she could to restore him to health,” a surgeon would write just a few years later. “She caused a capsule of thick, strong, fibrous tissue to be formed around the bullet, completely walling it off from the rest of the body, and rendering it entirely harmless.”
The story of assassin Charles Guiteau is of a mentally unstable man. He didn’t consider what he was planning to be murder. In his mind God wanted him to “remove the President’ so that the other faction of the Republican party would be in control of the Government. In actuality he wasn’t the primary cause of Garfield’s death. That distinction goes to the primary doctor.
Bell’s story is sad because he wasn’t able to perfect his Induction Balance in time to save the President.
This is up there with some of the best nonfiction I have read. I will definitely be adding Candice Millard’s other books to my TBR list.