One of my children used to be particularly interested in naming and researching the four U.S. presidents who were assassinated: Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, and Kennedy. This book about the life, presidency, and assassination of President James Garfield would have been above her reading level since she was only 10 or 11 years old when she had the fascination with assassinated presidents, but it definitely is full of information about Garfield and would be absorbing for anyone with a similar interest.
Like Lincoln, Garfield grew up in poverty. He became an educated man by dint of hard work and his widowed mother’s sacrifice. He married a woman with whom he shared at best friendship, and only many years later, after Garfield had an affair and then re-committed to his marriage, did the two of them become partners in love in the truest sense. This part of the story alone is fascinating, a good example for our age of love’em and leave’em. (This breach of trust and reconciliation is documented in letters that Lucretia, his wife, kept and later left to his presidential library.)
But there are several other fascinating stories in this book:
the story of Vice President Chester Arthur and his conversion from party hack to presidential promoter of honesty and civil service reform.
the saga of Alexander Graham Bell’s desperate attempt to invent a medical device that would locate the bullet lodged inside President Garfield’s body before Garfield died.
the history of medical sterilization techniques that had not yet been accepted as standard practice in the U.S., contributing to the infection that eventually killed the president.
the sad (and currently relevant in light of the attention that is being focused on random shootings after Sandy Hook) story of the assassin, Charles Guiteau, who was obviously as mad as March hare but nevertheless cunning enough to plan a successful presidential assassination all by himself.
Candice Millard also wrote the book I read a couple of years ago about Theodore Roosevelt’s trip into the Amazon rainforest, River of Doubt, and my plan is to read anything she writes in the future. Ms. Millard, by the way, got her master’s degree in literature from Baylor University. Destiny of the Republic won the Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime.