I just completed the book Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President. This book was incredibly eye opening and centers around the assassination of President James Garfield in 1881. Not many people know about Garfield or the legacy he left behind since he only served as President for 5 months before he was shot.
The more you read though, the more engaged you become. Garfield had no intention of becoming the president but was forced into the position despite his refusal. As the book progresses, you follow Garfield, his assassin, and Alexander Graham Bell. The stories converge of course at the shooting that occurred in a train station in Washington, DC.
Garfield’s assassin was a complete mad man. Insane, no doubt. He believed he was better than everyone else and was entitled to fame and fortune. He was a fuckhead though and just scammed people out of money his whole life.
Alexander Graham Bell, famous for inventing the telephone, wanted to help the president live by inventing a device that would help locate the bullet inside the President’s body. This was effectively the first metal detector.
The most interesting part of the book though for me was Garfield’s doctors. When you read this book, you cringe hard. It’s like the doctors cared more about their egos and who would get recognition than actual common sense. Despite there being early evidence about the real risk of using contaminated surgical methods, American doctors largely dismissed this. Everything you read was disgusting and completely the opposite of how things are done today. By the end of the book, there is a real question about who really killed the president. Was it the assassin…or the doctors?
Other neat little things I learned — back then, people felt entitled to meet the president. It was way different.. For example, if I was willing to wait hours on end, I can just walk up to the White House, sit in the waiting room and wait my turn to talk to the president about my troubles. Unheard of today.
There’s a lot more in this book and I definitely recommend it.