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Book Review Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard. New York: Doubleday, 2011, 340 pp. [i] Candice Millard is an American citizen who has experience as a writer and editor with the National Geographic magazine and has already written a successful book on the subject of Theodore Roosevelt…
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Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President
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Download file to see previous pages Garfield, was shot very soon after he became the 20th President of the United States, and died a lingering death because of the bungling doctors who attempted to treat his wounds. Millard’s style, however, is fast-paced and entertaining, making the intrigue surrounding this dramatic episode in American history into a kind of psychological thriller. [ii] The book is structured in twenty two short chapters, along with a prologue and epilogue. These are arranged in turn into four numbered sections. Each chapter starts with a little quotation which is taken from James A. Garfield himself, and which gives the book an old- fashioned feel, as if there is going to be some moral implied in the narrative that follows. The titles and opening lines of the chapters have a deliberately dramatic tone, as for example in chapter one, which begins with the words “Even severed as it was from the rest of the body, the hand was majestic. Sixteen feet tall, with long, tapered fingers….” (p. 7) It turns out that the hand in question belongs to the as yet un-erected statue of liberty, and the symbolism is evidently intended. The prologue of the book is rather unusual because it starts with a description of Charles Guiteau, the man who would ultimately assassinate James A. Garfield. He is immediately described as a failure at everything he has touched, and he is compared with Garfield, almost as a mirror image of that man’s success: “Like Guiteau, Garfield had started out with very little in life, but where Guiteau had found failure and frustration.” (p. 1). This shadowy figure lurks in the background, therefore, from the very start of the book, giving a certain impression of inevitability about what transpires, as if it was all prefigured from the beginning, with the heroic Garfield being tracked by his nemesis all along. Following this rather odd prologue, the first part of the book follows a fairly standard biography pattern, narrating the childhood and adolescence of its subject, with reference to his father’s hard life and early death when James Garfield was only 2 years old, and the struggle of his mother to bring up her children in a dignified kind of poverty. James was the lucky one, unlike his elder brother, and he received all that the family could afford in the way of educational opportunities. The fact that he turned his back on all of that to take up a life on the canals is a testament to his spirit of adventure and Millard then tells a tale of redemption from this rough and ready lifestyle through an incident of almost drowning followed by a bout of malaria. These setbacks sent the young Garfield back to the care of his family, who persuaded him to take up his studies once more. The family oriented young man thus provides a prime example for Americans to follow, representing a rags to riches transformation through the sacrifice of his mother and siblings, and through his own hard work and ambition to better himself. This narrative suffuses the story line, setting up the expectation that James A. Garfield is destined to achieve great things, or as he says himself: “Providence only could have saved my life … Providence, therefore, thinks it is worth saving.” (p. 21). Garfield’s marriage is narrated, and his early political life also, giving an insight into the political world of the mid nineteenth century. The tone of the book tends towards the ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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