Candice Millard talks about "Destiny of the Republic"
Candice Millard calls assassinated US President James Garfield a "very admirable" person whose death was "a real loss to the nation."
In her first, bestselling book, “River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey” (2005), author Candice Millard tells the story of the 26th president’s harrowing adventure traveling down an uncharted tributary of the Amazon River in one of the most remote parts of the world. In her new book, Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President, Millard focuses her formidable research and narrative skills on the shooting of president James Garfield and his death, 79 days later, from the misguided medical care he received. Like its predecessor, her new book is a page turner, and Millard has found compelling characters and narrative drama in historical events that have been largely overlooked. I caught up with Millard at a coffee shop in Kansas City to talk about Garfield and “Destiny of the Republic.”Skip to next paragraph
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Q. Both of your books focus on events in the lives of former US presidents. It seems the reading public can’t get enough of Theodore Roosevelt, but James Garfield is all but forgotten. How did you come to write about him and is it just a coincidence that both of your books are about past presidents?
A. It’s a coincidence. I was casting around for another book idea and I wasn’t necessarily interested in writing about another president. I like to write about science. I was researching Alexander Graham Bell and stumbled upon the story of him trying to invent something to find the bullet in Garfield. I didn’t know anything about Garfield beyond the fact that he had been assassinated, so I started to research him and I was just blown away. I couldn’t believe what an extraordinary man this was who has been almost completely forgotten.
Q. Do you hope your book will revive Garfield’s memory?
A. Absolutely, I do. Who knows how many people will read the book or what they’ll come away with, but having spent three years with the man and this time in history, I found him very admirable and I found it a real loss to the nation that he’s been forgotten. I think there’s a lot we can learn from him and from this tragedy.
Q. Like what?
A. What struck me is that it doesn’t take a large event to cause a national tragedy. In this case it was one man’s madness and another man’s petty ambitions that led to the death of a president. To me, the lessons are the dangers of arrogance and the importance of things like scientific progress, of broadmindedness, of education. And these are all things that Garfield stood for, that he embodied.
Q. In all the research you did, was there any one thing in particular that you found that was especially striking?