Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of madenss, Medicine and the Murder of a President, Candice Millard, Doubleday Publishing, 340 pp., 34 illustrations, bibliographic notes, bibliography, index, $28.95 hardcover; $16.00 trade paperback.
On July 2, 1881 about four months into his presidency, James A. Garfield was shot in the back by Charles J. Guiteau using a .44 caliber British Bulldog pistol. Garfield died September 19 of the same year. He was medically attended to by D. Willard Bliss who had attendied Abraham Lincoln when he had been assassinated. Millard's book offers many intriguing stories regarding Garfield's death and his assassin's life.
Among those aspects, Millard discusses the dissmissal by Bliss of Joseph Lister's work with germ theory and antiseptic surgery. Lister used Louis Pasteur's research in microbiology and he promoted the practice of sterile surgery. Carbolic acid used for cleaning wounds and sterilizing medical instruments reduced infections. During 1867-1869 Lister introduced his discovery to British surgeons. Throughout the 1870s sterilization became a wide spread practice in England.
Bliss appears to be represenative of American doctors in 1881 in that he dismissed in the 1870 Lister's work. Additionally, Bliss excessively probed Garfield's wound and inadvertently created a new wound in Garfield's body. Millard's story contains insights to the American medical establishment of the late 19th century. Also, she covers the politics and the diagnosis of mental illness during this era. Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of madenss, Medicine and the Murder of a President is a nicely paced narrative that is accessible to the general reader.
Author discusses Destiny of the Republic on CSpan BookTV [52 minutes]