Wednesday, October 26, 2011

New History Books: Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard. Most Americans know James Garfield only to the extent that he is one of the answers to the trivial question catalogue of American presidents who were assassinated or died in office. His presidency was also a very brief one, only four months. The American “Gilded Age,” the period of time in which he was elected in 1880, is one that receives less attention from scholars than the more dramatic periods of American History that involved periods of war or national crisis. But recently, there has been more attention given to Garfield as a person who was an extraordinary figure in American politics and whose life was in many ways a reflection of some of the country’s major intellectual currents, its enduring problems and its most idealistic aspirations. A brief introduction to Garfield was given to us not long ago in Adam Goodheart’s 1861: The Civil War Awakening. Candice Millard’s new book gives us a fuller view of James Garfield’s life, as well as a fascinating focus on the events surrounding his lingering death and the power struggles that went on in Washington behind the scenes as competing political forces tried to gain the upper hand in his succession. But mostly the reader will come away from this book with a picture of a man whose intellect, integrity, and moral character will suggest perhaps the qualities we are looking for most among that jockeying cast who are, so to speak, off and running in the current political season.

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