Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline: Sometimes you should just leave the bullet alone.

Quick synopsis: The story of how President James Garfield came to power and then was assassinated. Also, how a bunch of doctors screwed up a lot.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like: Thomas Edison makes an appearance. Yeah, the phone guy! He created a handheld metal detector to find the bullet lodged in Garfield’s body.  

Oh, and they created an air conditioner in the White House to make Garfield comfortable. Yeah, you read that right.

Fun Fact for History Nerds: Charles Guiteau may have shot the bullet, but Garfield’s friends and doctors are major contributors. Repeated attempts to locate the bullet caused a disgusting amount of infection which ultimately killed the president.

My Take: I didn’t particularly care about James Garfield from a historical perspective. He was president and then got killed pretty early on. What is there to get all excited about?

Then Candice Millard (my nerd crush) came along and wrote a book that is equal parts biography and indictment of medicine in the 1880s. But wait, there’s more!

How about Garfield’s prodigious intelligence? Or his constant push against the political “machine” of his time? Or Charles Guiteau’s decent into madness? Or Thomas freaking Edison inventing things to help the president? Or Garfield’s spineless vice president turning on his own political masters?

I guess I was wrong about Garfield being boring. Candice wins again.

Verdict: Great book for everyone. Even non-history nerds will find this interesting as hell.

If You Liked This Try:

  • Candice Millard, Hero of the Empire
  • Candice Millard, The River of Doubt
  • Scott Greenberger, The Unexpected President
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Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard
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