I have to confess that my knowledge of Garfield was not as extensive as it might have been, either. I knew about him getting shot, of course. And I also knew that he was from my native state of Ohio.
These were all reasons why I was looking forward to reading Candice Millard's book Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President.
But now that I'm about 90% through the book, I can report that I've enjoyed Millard's biography of James Garfield far more than I expected I would. Millard does an excellent job of bringing to life a long-dead president who is not nearly as widely known as Lincoln, the Roosevelts, and other commanders-in-chief.
There is a lot of fascinating detail in this book about Garfield's personal and political life.
Garfield came from humble beginnings and rose quickly through hard work and perseverance through the ranks of academia, the military, and government. He was an early champion of racial equality. Less than a generation after the Civil War (Garfield took office in 1881) Garfield was a "uniter, not a divider". He was widely loved by Republicans and freed slaves, of course. But he was also the first Republican president to win the hearts and minds of the defeated South--at least to a degree.
As Millard reports, Garfield was also very human. He indulged in an extramarital affair that almost ruined his marriage, and he struggled with other flaws and insecurities--just like everyone else. At his core, though, the Garfield that Millard portrays was a principled leader and a basically likable man.
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