Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President

By Candice Millard

I am an avid reader of nonfiction and particularly like the Civil War and early America books, so it was natural that Destiny of the Republic and Killing Lincoln caught my attention as they were processed through the library and readied for patrons. It’s been a long time since I have picked up books about Presidents that were easy reads and totally captivating.

Both books are written more like fiction, walking the reader through the events of the deaths of both of these men, while giving us a look at their lives as Presidents, family men, and men who loved and were devoted to their country.

Little has been written about President James Garfield as he served such a short time as President of the United States. Abraham Lincoln, by contrast, has had many books devoted to his life and presidency.

The reader quickly finds, though, that the men had much in common.

Both gentlemen were raised on farms and were very poor while growing up. While Lincoln did not serve in the military, James Garfield was actually a general in the Union Army, enlisting at the outset of the Civil War and very quickly earning his promotion.

He too was an advocate for freed slaves, a stance which both had little time to champion because of their untimely deaths. As with Lincoln, James Garfield mastered the art of making speeches and could easily spellbind his audience. While both were felled by bullets of radical men, they died quite different deaths and the causes of their deaths were not the same.

Killing Lincoln

By Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard

Reviewed by Kathy Jacobs, Library Director

Yankton Community Library

Most of us know the story of President Lincoln’s death, how John Wilkes Booth burst into his box at the Ford Theatre, shooting Lincoln once in the back of the head just above and behind the left ear. There was no way that he could possibly survive this wound and died a little over seven hours later.

President Garfield, however, did not die so quickly or peacefully. He was shot twice by Charles Guiteau, once in the arm and once in the back, but his injuries did not kill him. It is, in fact, the use of unsterile equipment and unsanitary conditions that his medical attendants used that killed him. It was a slow, painful death that was caused by the infection that riddled his body in the areas where doctors probed for the bullets, using unsterile equipment.

Both Destiny of the Republic and Killing Lincoln take the reader through two very dark times in American history. These are compelling reads that I would recommend for adults and young adults who are trying to not only read about our nation’s history but “experience the times” through literature.