34 Following

Seriously, Read a Book!

Thoughts on books, often interpreted through the high-brow prism of cartoon (read: Archer) references. Wait! I had something for this...

Currently reading

Land of LISP: Learn to Program in LISP, One Game at a Time!
Conrad Barski
The Sketchnote Handbook: The Illustrated Guide to Visual Notetaking
Mike Rohde
The Antidote
Oliver Burkeman
The Kind Worth Killing
Peter Swanson
James Buchanan
Jean H. Baker, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President - Candice Millard

What a great way to start out my 2014 mission to get to know the presidents! Candice Millard does a great job of interweaving the stories of multiple characters (à la Erik Larson in The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America): James Garfield, Charles Guiteau (his assassin), and (to a lesser extent) Alexander Graham Bell. Toss in some history of science/medicine, some solid info on the early days of the M'Naghten rule, a few menacing politicians/villains (I was constantly picturing Roscoe Conkling menacingly tapping his fingers in the corner), and you've got yourself an entertaining and informative read.


Over the course of this book, I not only became somewhat of a Garfield fan-girl (he had me at his proof of the Pythagorean theorem), but was awestruck by the audacity and outlandishness (and reality of) delusional stalker thinking exemplified by Guiteau. To call it outlandish is not to say it was inaccurate- in fact, it was remarkable just how textbook abnormal/criminal psychology it was. But, that's not to say that I did not find it (though tragic), at times, funny to read. 

Essentially, Garfield gets elected which, obviously, Guiteau thinks is as a result of his having made an obscure, plagiarized speech to some 20 people a few states away one time. Thus, obviously, Garfield owes Guiteau big time. These being the days of presidential open "office hours" (which, yes, turned out to be problematic) he, goes to the White House to let his preferences be known:

[On the speech he submitted to Garfield] he had written “Paris Consulship” and drawn a line between those words and his name, “so that the President would remember what I wanted"

Finally, much to his annoyance, god tells him to hell with it! he just has to remove Garfield from office, which worked out fine for Guiteau since it would make him pretty famous.

Although he believed he was doing God’s work, he had been driven for so long by a desire for fame and prestige that his first thought was not how he would assassinate the president, but the attention he would receive after he did.

Literally, his considerations before assassinating the president include: getting a gun that will look sufficiently "nice" in its place of honor in the Library of Congress, checking out the jail to make sure it would be sufficient accommodations, getting his shoes shined for the impending press coverage and penning a 'Your Welcome' letter to VP Chester Arthur. 


Oh, and did I forget to mention the little note he sent to good ol' General Sherman requesting that he and his troops show up and rescue him from jail when they get a chance? Well, he did that too.

Sherman, he was confident, would soon receive his letter and send out the troops to free him, and Vice President Arthur, overwhelmed with gratitude, would be eager to be of any assistance.

Guiteau's delusions don't stop there, but you'll just have to enjoy that ride for yourself. Part II of Garfield's death is where we get some great nineteenth century Medicine which (shock me shock me) is also chock full of egocentric characters. 

If there's one major lesson learned from this book it would be this: if you're president, stay the hell away from Robert Todd Lincoln. Seriously! He was at three presidential assassinations (also he brought in this doctor who was kind of a bad choice, but I digress).