A Tragic Tale of a Gifted President, a Gunman, and Bad Medicine

James Garfield came out of nowhere to win the Republican nomination and become the 20th president of the United States in 1881.

If not for a bullet and questionable medical care, he could have been one of the greatest leaders in American history.

Candice Millard, in Destiny Republic, has created a riveting presidential biography about a brilliant man and one of the most gifted White House residents.

Millard, author of River of Doubt, my favorite book about Teddy Roosevelt, tells Garfield’s tragic story as if she lived during his time. A passionate civil rights advocate and Civil War hero, Garfield was struck down by deranged gunman Charles Guiteau. The president’s life lingered for more than two months and he died when European medical advances likely would have saved him.

He served just six months and died despite desperate attempts by inventor Alexander Graham Bell to prevent his death. Garfield’s doctor, Willard Bliss, rejected European medical advances that most likely would have allowed him to live, leading some to say “ignorance is Bliss.”

Less than two decades after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, Garfield walked the streets of Washington D.C. without guards, thinking lightning wouldn’t strike down another president. Lincoln’s son, Robert Todd Lincoln, secretary of war, was present when Garfield was shot.

There are enough twists in Destiny Republic that Millard’s book may lead you to say, “Indeed, life is stranger than fiction.”

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