Sunday, October 2, 2011

by Candice Millard

Four months after being shot by a crazed individual named Charles Guiteau and close to death, James A. Garfield wondered what kind of legacy he would leave behind as the president of the United States. Had he lived, he could have been, most likely, the best man to ever serve in the White House. Up until this time, his life had been truly extraordinary. Born into abject poverty (his father died when Garfield was barely two years old) his mother instilled dignity, an incredible work ethic and a solid educational background in him. This would be his backbone.
As a student, he loved to be challenged and was always pushing himself. Garfield turned out to be quite a scholar. When he couldn't pay the tuition for his schooling during his first year, he worked as a janitor. By the second year, Garfield was promoted to assistant professor and taught literature, mathematics, and ancient languages along with three other subjects.
His brilliance continued when he became a general in the Union Army and won an important battle. Soon after, Garfield was elected to Congress. He fought for the equality of freed slaves.
His speeches were legendary. People would listen spellbound, so when he took the podium at the Republican National Convention in 1880 to nominate John Sherman for the presidency, his oratorical skills so completely captivated the audience that at the end of the speech, they were screaming for him not Sherman. Their reaction stunned him. He tried to put them off to no avail.
Garfield was nominated and won the presidency most reluctantly.
What a tremendous book! The writing is absolutely superb. Candice Millard captures everything that went on during that time period so astutely and you just cannot stop reading nor do you want to. There's so much fascinating information that will not be divulged but here are some tidbits: the doctors who treated Garfield and what they did and did not do is very disturbing and appalling; Alexander Graham Bell attempts to save the president (not by the telephone) and works long hours trying to perfect his latest invention; the madman's reason of why he shot the president; the political infighting behind the scenes.
If you're a history nut or just want to be blown away by exceptional storytelling, get a copy of this book. You won't be disappointed.
Very highly recommended.