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
author: Candice Millard
name: Elaine
average rating: 0.0
book published: 2011
rating: 5
read at: 2011/12/25
date added: 2011/12/27
shelves: non-fiction, biography, history, politics, science, ebook
Fascinating book on a topic I knew nothing about. (I vaguely remembered that Garfield was shot by an office seeker, but not much more than that.) The switching back and forth between the life of President Garfield and his (crazypants!) assassin was very well done. And I’m a little sad I hadn’t known anything about Garfield before this; he comes off as a really wonderful human being.

Also: holy premodern medicine, Batman! It’s clear early on that he may have been shot by Guiteau, but he was killed by appalling medical practices. If he’d been left the hell alone, he probably would have lived; if he’d been shot two decades later, they would have gotten out the bullet AND he would have lived. (There’s an interesting sidetrack into Alexander Graham Bell’s development of a metal detector in hopes of finding the bullet.) But in 1881, getting the best possible medical care basically finished him off.

Now I’m curious why American docs in particular were so slow to take up Lister’s antiseptic methods and the germ theory. I got pretty well grossed out by the descriptions of doctors basically rooting around in his back with their bare hands looking for the bullet…which happened to have ended up on the opposite side from where they thought it was…and pus, and fevers, and blood poisoning. Ewwww.

A interesting story very well told. Highly recommended.