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.”

The Accidental President

How did a virtually unknown Missouri man ascend to the White House in a matter of months?

How did a man who never wanted to be president hold up as he guided the United States to the end of World War II and into the Cold War?

What did he think when he learned about a secret that would end the war and change the world forever?

A.J. Baime uncovered answers to many mysteries about the early months of Harry S. Truman’s presidency in The Accidental President. This is one of the most gripping presidential biographies I have read. Baime brings readers into the White House for critical moments and into momentus talks with Churchill and Stalin.

This book made me feel like I was living the times with one of our most unique leaders.