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Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President
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Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President [Audiobook, Unabridged, Import] [Audio CD]

Candice Millard , Paul Michael
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Book Description

20 September 2011
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.

Meticulously researched, epic in scope, and pulsating with an intimate human focus and high-velocity narrative drive, The Destiny of the Republic will stand alongside The Devil in the White City and The Professor and the Madman as a classic of narrative history.

Total Run Time: 10 hours.

Product Description


A New York Times Notable Book of 2011
Winner of the 2012 PEN award for Research Nonfiction

"A staggering tale....Millard digs deeply into the turmoil that got James A. Garfield elected, the lunacy that got him shot and the medical malfeasance that turned a minor wound into a mortal one."--Janet Maslin, Top 10 Recommendations for 2011

“One of the many pleasures of Candice Millard’s new book, Destiny of the Republic, [is] that she brings poor Garfield to life—and a remarkable life it was…..Fascinating… Outstanding….Millard has written us a penetrating human tragedy.”
--The New York Times Book Review

“A spirited tale that intertwines murder, politics and medical mystery, Candice Millard leaves us feeling that Garfield's assassination deprived the nation not only of a remarkably humble and intellectually gifted man but one who perhaps bore the seeds of greatness…. splendidly drawn portraits…. Alexander Graham Bell makes a bravura appearance”—The Wall Street Journal

"Fascinating......Gripping.....Stunning....has a much bigger scope than the events surrounding Garfield’s slow, lingering death. It is the haunting tale of how a man who never meant to seek the presidency found himself swept into the White House. . . . Ms. Millard shows the Garfield legacy to be much more important than most of her readers knew it to be."
--The New York Times

“Crisp, concise and revealing history….Millard has crafted a fresh narrative that plumbs some of the most dramatic days in U.S. presidential history”
--The Washington Post
"Destiny of the Republic
displays Millard's energetic writing and rare ability to effortlessly educate the listener."--USA Today

Brings the era and people involved to vivid life….. Millard takes the reader on a compelling fly on-the-wall journey with these two men until that fateful day in a train station when Guiteau shot Garfield….. Millard takes all of these elements in a forgotten period of history and turns them into living and breathing things. The writing immerses readers into the period, making them feel as though they are living at that time. Comparisons to Erik Larson's "The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America" are justified, but "Destiny of the Republic" is better.”
--Associated Press

“Think you’re not interested in James Garfield, our 20th President? Millard’s action-packed account of his life and truly strange death should change your mind.”
--People Magazine

Fascinating…. Millard builds a popular history that is both substantive and satisfying. Filled with memorable characters, hairpin twists of fate and consequences that bring a young nation to the breaking point, “Destiny of the Republic” brings back to roaring life a tragic but irresistible historical period….. Meticulous research…Intriguing”
--The Christian Science Monitor

“A winning amalgamation of history and adventure. They [Millard’s books] exhibit a keen eye for human frailties.”
--Washington Post 

"Fascinating....Millard colorfully recreates the political milieu of 1880....The story is a natural for narrative history. Millard has created a readable and colorful account."
--The Seattle Times

"Millard provides a splendidly written and suspenseful account of this fascinating episode in American history"--Portland Oregonian

“[Garfield’s] murder serves as a lens through which to examine Garfield's life, Guiteau's peripatetic existence, the fortunes of the Republican Party, the political spoils system, the role of scientific invention, and the state of the American medical profession. By keeping a tight hold on her narrative strands, Millard crafts a popular history rich with detail and emotion. One of the pleasures of the book is the chance to learn more about Garfield, who appears as a fully realized historical figure instead of a trivia answer…..ability to bring to life the man at the center of her story, and his brief entry into the annals of presidential history.”—Salon

“It takes a gifted writer to prompt a reader to spend a lot of time with a book in which James Garfield is the main character. Candice Millard has done that. In addition to providing insights about our 20th commander-in-chief, “Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President” is an engaging, elegantly written and insightful look at the political and scientific developments of late-19th century America….In the best tradition of the great writers of narrative nonfiction, Ms. Millard deftly blends the stories of Garfield and Bell and assassin Charles Guiteau and makes readers feel as if they were witnesses to the key events….. research and narrative prowess….twists and turns….This tale of physician error contextualized by politics and murder makes for riveting reading. Ms. Millard recounts this episode of our nation’s history in a style that keeps readers on the edge of their seats even though the ending is known.” --The Washington Times

“Splendid….recovers for us just what a remarkable -- even noble -- man Garfield was……She also chillingly depicts his killer….highly readable account offers much more than parallel biographies, however. She vividly captures an era of savage political infighting, lax security for public figures and appalling medical ignorance….This wonderful book reminds us that our 20th president was neither a minor nor merely a tragic figure, but rather an extraordinary one.”—Cleveland Plain Dealer

“An achingly good, suspenseful read….compelling characters and nail-biting storytelling, and [readers] will no doubt walk away even more emotionally affected by Garfield’s tragedy…..deftly skilled….One cannot help but hope that through Millard’s book, the ultimately inspiring story of America’s 20th president and the race to save his life will fill our minds and stay awhile.”
--Kansas City Star

“Blends science, medicine, and politics in a crime story that grabs tight and it does not let go until the very last page.  This is historical reporting at its very best. Millard has done more, however, than just revisit a presidential shooting….. A remarkable book.  It is crisply written and riveting.  The murder of Garfield created a crucial turning point in our national history.  How this event galvanized our country and changed it forever is a must-read story that features a relentless narrative by a talented writer at the top of her game.”
-- Tucson Citizen

"Millard chronicles all this with precision and skill. She creates a vivid portrait of the times, a vulnerable nation, political hardball, nightmarish decision-making and the eloquent Garfield, who's a footnote for generations of high school students. She covers topics as diverse as the fiefdom of New York senator and patronage dispenser Roscoe Conkling, and the mind of Alexander Graham Bell, working on an electrical device to find the bullet lodged in Garfield's back. Millard seamlessly unfolds multiple tales....Millard finds the ironies of history throughout this stirring narrative, one that's full of suspense even though you know what's coming. She makes you a witness, not a reader."
--Erie Times

“One was a distinguished winner, the other a disturbed loser. And when their paths intersected, the course of American history was changed. In "The Destiny of the Republic," Candice Millard tells their stories with depth and verve….. exhaustive research…. but the result of her scholarship is decidedly unstuffy. The power of her narrative drives the reader from page to page as the tragic tale unfolds, and the portraits of the main players are created with a love for the relevant detail. "The Destiny of the Republic" is popular history at its best — accessible, educational and entertaining — and Millard renders it with grace, power and sympathy.”—Richmond Times Dispatch

"[Millard demonstrates] the power of expert storytelling to wonderfully animate even the simplest facts....make[s] for compulsive reading. Superb American history"
--Kirkus, starred review

"Splendidly insightful....stands securely at the crossroads of popular and professional history"
--Booklist, starred review

“Sparklingly alive…[Millard] brings to life a moment in the nation’s history when access to the president was easy, politics bitter, and medical knowledge slight.  Under Millard’s pen, it’s hard to imagine its being better told.”
--Publishers Weekly

“Historian Candice Millard’s Destiny of the Republic is first-rate history, political intrigue, and a true-crime story all rolled into one. Millard is masterful at capturing the zeitgeist of America during the 1880s, when President James Garfield was assassinated. An epic must-read!”
Douglas Brinkley, author of The Wilderness Warrior

“In this brilliant and riveting work, Candice Millard demonstrates the power of narrative nonfiction. Through exhaustive research and flawless storytelling, she has brought to life one of the most harrowing and fascinating sagas in American history—a saga filled with political intrigue, a mad assassin, and a frantic scientific struggle to save the life of a noble president. This is a book that is impossible to put down.”
—David Grann, author of The Lost City of Z

“Candice Millard has done it again: She’s turned the sometimes stodgy realm of presidential history on its head with a gripping tale of high danger and stoic endurance, a tale that had nearly completely vanished from public memory. What an exceptional man and what an exciting era Millard has brought to elegant life on the page! After reading Destiny of the Republic, you’ll never think of James A. Garfield as a ‘minor’ president again—and you’ll despise anew our national penchant for hatching madmen who snuff out greatness in its prime.”
Hampton Sides, author of Hellhound on His Trail

“In President Garfield’s assassination, Candice Millard has rediscovered one of the great forgotten stories in American history. Millard has turned Garfield’s story into a crackling tale of suspense and a panoramic picture of a fascinating but forgotten era. If you enjoy reading about Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy, you will find this book riveting.”
—Debby Applegate, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for The Most Famous Man in America

“As she did in The River of Doubt, Candice Millard has written another riveting narrative, this time about a long-neglected but remarkable president, James A. Garfield, who was shot by a deranged office seeker just a few weeks after he assumed the presidency. What happens next is detailed in the accomplished book. Just as Millard put us deep in the Amazon with Teddy Roosevelt, she has skillfully allowed us to share this traumatic moment.”
—Ken Burns

About the Author

CANDICE MILLARD is the New York Times bestselling author of The River of Doubt. She lives in Kansas City with her husband and children.

From the Hardcover edition.

Product details

  • Audio CD: 8 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Audio; Unabridged edition (20 September 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307939650
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307939654
  • Product Dimensions: 14.7 x 13 x 3 cm

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Amazon.com: 4.7 out of 5 stars  1,043 reviews
497 of 503 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A dead president brought to life 20 September 2011
By TChris - Published on Amazon.com
James Garfield is most often remembered, if at all, as the president who was assassinated shortly after taking office. Destiny of the Republic brings the dead president back to life. This is not, however, a biography of Garfield. Rather, it is a stirring account of American life and politics during the time of the Garfield presidency, not long after the conclusion of the Civil War, and of a presidential murder. Garfield's early years are sketched out in cursory fashion, his (sometimes troubled) relationship with and eventual devotion to his wife Lucretia is covered in only a few pages, and the death of his youngest child receives little more than a mention. Rather than focusing on Garfield's personal life, Candice Millard devotes her attention to political divisions within the Republican Party (particularly Garfield's battles with New York Senator Roscoe Conkling and the vice president he controlled), as well as Garfield's frustration with the obligations of the office that he had little desire to hold.

The president's assassin is given nearly as much attention as the president. There are times when the book has the feel of a thriller, as the ominous Charles Guiteau weaves in and out of the text, inching himself closer to the president. Millard depicts Guiteau as a con man with delusions of grandeur whose madness was characterized by a growing belief that his plan to assassinate Garfield was divinely inspired.

The assassination occurs at the book's midway point. Millard then treats us to a different kind of political battle, a medical drama about doctors who vie for the opportunity to treat the president and who, ironically, become responsible for his death. Arrogant in their refusal to believe in the existence of germs, American doctors rejected evidence that antiseptic surgical conditions increase a patient's chance of survival. The dirty finger and unwashed probes inserted into Garfield's wound in search of a bullet sealed the president's fate, infecting an injury that Garfield would likely have survived if left untreated. The book concludes with an account of Garfield's autopsy and Guiteau's trial.

Destiny of the Republic succeeds on two levels. First, it is informative. Millard fills the text with interesting facts culled from a variety of primary and secondary source materials, including frequent quotations from contemporaneous news stories and Garfield's diary, to set the scene for Garfield's presidency. We learn enough about the man to understand that he would have made an admirable president. It's interesting to note that Garfield, despite his love of farming, was a scholar, a professor of literature and ancient languages, well versed in mathematics and keenly interested in science, the sort of man who, if running for office today, would likely be branded an "elitist." Garfield's speeches condemning slavery and the unequal treatment of black Americans are eloquent and moving; the book is worth reading for those passages alone.

Second, the book is entertaining. Millard's prose is lively. She captures personalities as if she were writing a novel. She seasons the narrative with humor and creates tension as the events leading to Garfield's encounter with Guiteau unfold. Despite its attention to detail, the narrative moves at a brisk pace.

My sole complaint concerns the attention that Millard gives to Alexander Graham Bell. Granted that Bell's life intersected with Garfield's more than once, and that Bell worked diligently to invent a device that would pinpoint the location of the bullet lodged in Garfield's body, the full chapter and parts of several others devoted to Bell's life seem out of place, as if Millard felt the need to pad her relatively short book with filler. I would have preferred a more thorough discussion of the political aftermath of the shooting. Millard tells us of its unifying effect on a nation that emerged from the Civil War still deeply divided, but provides few facts to support that proposition. A more extensive look at the impact of the assassination on the country would have been more germane than the pages devoted to Bell's life before and after his invention of the telephone.

That criticism aside, Destiny of the Republic is perfect for readers (like me) who want to know about a key moment in American history without being subjected to mind-numbing detail or leaden prose. Millard's book is enlightening and enjoyable. Garfield is a dead president I'm happy to have met.
163 of 166 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How Not to Treat a President 20 September 2011
By Just My Op - Published on Amazon.com
If the 20th U. S. President, James A. Garfield, had not been so well attended by doctors, he very well might have survived being shot by an assassin. If his doctors, especially the controlling and pompous Dr. Doctor Bliss (no, Dr. Doctor is not a mistype), had been willing to practice Lister's antisepsis techniques, Garfield might have lived. And if the assassin, Guiteau, hadn't been a megalomaniac who thought he was supposed to kill the president, the medical care would never have been needed. As it was, Garfield died slowly and very painfully, and we never were able to benefit from the president he could have been.

As sad as the story is, I loved the telling of it in this book. Author Candice Millard did a wonderful job of tying together the different people most important in this tragedy, and the mood of the times. I would never have known otherwise that Alexander Graham Bell invented a metal detector so that he could try to locate the bullet still in Garfield's body. I needed a bit stronger stomach than I have to read about Garfield's treatment and the progression of his illness. And, 130 years after his death, I am sorry that he did not get the chance to live his full potential as president. I highly recommend this excellent book.

Thank you to the publisher for giving me an advance reader's edition of the book.
128 of 142 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shot by a Madman, Killed by the Doctor 20 September 2011
By takingadayoff - Published on Amazon.com
Having recently enjoyed the quirky Matthew Algeo book about Grover Cleveland, The President Is a Sick Man: Wherein the Supposedly Virtuous Grover Cleveland Survives a Secret Surgery at Sea and Vilifies the Courageous Newspaperman Who Dared Expose the Truth, I was ready to tackle another 19th century president.

Destiny of the Republic, which is a phrase from a nominating speech James A. Garfield gave at the Republican convention of 1880, is a fine bit of flowery oratory, but as a book title, I find it completely forgettable. "Decline of the Nation? Debacle of the Century? No, but it's something similar..."

Aside from the dull title, the book is a corker. In the first scene we find our hero, Congressman Garfield, at the Centennial Exposition in Pennsylvania in 1876. He strides along, taking in the displays, while other attendees pay to be pushed in wheelchairs. It seems the spectacle of agile people hopping in and out of their rental rascal scooters at the State Fair that I just visited is part of a long American tradition.

This is not a traditional presidential biography. Instead, Candice Millard has focused the book on the attempted assassination of Garfield and the excruciating two months that followed his shooting.

Millard describes Garfield's rise from poor childhood to academic to state representative to president. On separate but converging paths to Garfield's story are the narratives of Charles Guiteau, the unhinged man who shot Garfield, and inventor Alexander Graham Bell, who was feverishly working on a kind of x-ray/metal detector that everyone hoped would save the president's life.

Only seventeen years after the assassination of Lincoln traumatized the nation, Charles Guiteau shot President Garfield. The wound was survivable, indeed, many Civil War veterans sustained similar wounds and lived normal lives. But in the confusion surrounding the shooting of a president, one of the few doctors who did not subscribe to the principle of sterilizing hands and medical equipment managed to intimidate everyone into allowing him to take charge of the President's medical care.

Candice Millard tells the story in a clear narrative way that was so full of fascinating details that I kept stopping to check facts. How did she know what Guiteau was thinking or that Vice President Chester Arthur was in tears? Were these colorful speculations that the author tossed in using artistic license? Not at all. Every statement is backed up by endnotes. Millard consulted diaries, letters, court testimony, newspaper accounts and she documents everything rigorously.

As a student, I was bored silly by American history. Over the years I have come to enjoy 20th century history, but still think of 18th and 19th century American history as complete snoozes. I found Ken Burns' Civil War series so slow and low-key that even now the first few notes of the theme music put me into a deep sleep. So I am quite amazed to have liked Destiny of the Republic so much and hope that it is a huge success for Millard.
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Who's the real killer? 3 October 2011
By James Hiller - Published on Amazon.com
I didn't know that much about our twentieth president prior to this book. What I did know: that he was Republican, in office for a short amount of time, and was shot and lingered for months afterwards. Turns out, after reading Candice Miller's wonderful new book, "Destiny of the Republic", there was much more to President James Garfield than I first knew. I ended up with a single question after reading the book: Who was the real killer?

The first mention of Garfield that intrigued me recently came in 1861: The Civil War Awakening by Adam Goodhart. There, a chapter featured a youngish Garfield, empowered, on the verge of his war greatness, yet somehow innocent and compelling. Had I not read that chapter in 1861, I may have completely skipped over this book. Fortunately I didn't, because Candice Millard's book on his assassination poses many questions, and is incredibly intriguing.

Millard's prose is quick, creating a true page turner. Not overly dwelling in minute details, Millard raises the president from boyhood to presidency quickly, from his hardscrabble existence to his later glories on the battlefield and in the political arena. Garifeld, the man who never wanted to become president, found himself the candidate to break a deadlock in the election. Stepping up to the office, Garfield, saddled with a running mate from a political machine, Chester Arthur, wins and embraces the role of president he would have for a few short months.

We also track the life of the crazed assassin Charles Guiteau, deranged office seeker who was convinced he put Garfield in office with a singular weak speech and then showed up to claim his rightful spot in the administration. Millard doesn't swing Guiteau into a dark maniac, but someone with mental health issues that was loved by his family despite them.

Millard's true villain of the story is the doctor who took over his care (a medical coup, so to speak), Dr. D. W. Bliss, who poo-poohed the pioneering antiseptic work of George Lister, and probed the bullet wound with unwashed hands repeatedly, causing Garfield, who would have likely survived the shot, to transform into an infected being. Millard spares no detail into Garfield's suffering and condition. While Guiteau fired the shot that would lead to Garfield's death, clearly Bliss, unwilling to listen to anyone but himself, led the president to death with his "care".

Other characters in the book include a young Alexander Graham Bell, who created an invention to find the bullet, and Chester Arthur, who recognized his weakness in leadership and was completely horrified at becoming president.

All in all, this was a book that, despite knowing the ending, was a complete and true page turner. If you are into historical fiction, and looking for a great plane/train read, this is your book!
61 of 71 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but incomplete 5 January 2012
By A. Brockhaus - Published on Amazon.com
If I hadn't read "The President and the Assassin: McKinley, Terror, and Empire at the Dawn of the American Century" by Scott Miller before this book, I would probably have given Millard's book another star. It's ironic that two books on presidential assassinations in the 1800s would have come out within a few months of each other, but since they did, it seems appropriate to compare the two.

Unfortunately, "Destiny of the Republic" comes up short. Miller's book on McKinley is not only an engrossing read, he also does an excellent job presenting themes such as manifest destiny, imperialism and anarchism which make the book feel highly relevent since many of these themes still echo in current events today. Millard, on the other hand, is more constrained in her focus and presents the facts more or less as they happened. The book felt at times like a sepia-colored postcard that is interesting to look at but is ultimately disconnected from anything going on today. There were certainly a number of opportunities for Millard to elaborate on themes such as medicine or technology, but Millard only presents cursory information about these subjects. What impact did President Garfield's doctor's mishandling of his wound have on the medical profession? What happened to the doctors that attended to Garfield? How did America end up with another assassinated president only a few years later? What did the rest of the world think about the assassination? All of these questions and more are either ignored or answered superficially in the short epilogue.

This is still a somewhat engrossing read, and there were certainly some passages that were quite amusing to read, such as finding out that it was considered unseemly for presidential candidates to campaign for themselves. I'm sure that many would welcome a return to that sentiment! Ultimately though, Garfield's portrait still felt incomplete. It feels at times like Millard is turning him into a mythical American hero who pulled himself up by his bootstraps through education and hard work, and she avoids elaborating too much on his foibles such as his affair while still married. At 260 pages, this is a relatively short book that could have used a bit more work to really make it shine.

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