Millard, who is the best-selling author of “The River of Doubt” about Theodore Roosevelt, turns her attention to President James Garfield, who was the third victim of the bidecennial presidential curse that began in 1840.
Destiny of the Republic, which takes its title from a line in a speech Garfield gave at the 1880 Republican convention, is a bittersweet study of an unlikely president and the tragedy that befell him. Although a deranged megalomaniac named Charles Guiteau shot Garfield on July 2, 1881, the wound was not fatal. Instead, Garfield died two months later from massive infection caused by the unsanitary treatment he received from his doctors. This engrossing narrative weaves together several stories, including those of Joseph Lister, whose practice of antiseptic surgery had been dismissed by American doctors, and Alexander Graham Bell, whose invention of the “induction balance” was used unsuccessfully to locate the bullet. The story is a microcosm of progress in America in the 19th century and proof that something good can come from tragedy.
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