REVIEW: “Destiny of the Republic” by Candice Millard

  • Posted on: 16 December 2012
  • By: TedG

A record-setting eight men came out Thursday to discuss Destiny of the Republic (and to select the 2012 Book of the Year). Only two other times have we had this level of attendance but never during the holidays!

Destiny of the Republic is Candice Millard’s second book, her first being River of Doubt, which we read in 2010. John felt River of Doubt was the better of the two, saying that this story petered out as it went on. Adrian noted that Millard’s first book was more of an adventure story. This one, he said, became more pathological by the end.  

What does the title mean? Irv pointed out that both Garfield and his assassin, Charles Guiteau, had survived boat-related accidents that seemed to set their individual destinies. In Guiteau’s case, it fed his delusion that he had been chosen by God for greatness. Ron wondered if this was somehow related to the title of the book. Assassination of a president certainly wasn’t a change in the country’s course, as Lincoln had been killed just 16 years before Garfield was shot. How was the destiny of the republic altered or set by the shooting of President Garfield? We still don’t know.

Everyone commented on how James Garfield was a man without an ego or sense of grandeur. How different from politicians of today! Garfield was a reluctant, in fact, unwilling presidential candidate. Though he had little time in office before being laid up by the shooting, all signs indicate he would have been a great president, one who truly did work in the interest of the people and the nation. Many before and a few after him have done as much, but has anyone done so after having to resign himself to the assignment? It’s too easy to say there were fewer influences on Garfield––No Super-PACs or interest groups to contend with. But politics was just as rife with influence in those days as they are now; only the form of it has changed…maybe. The character of Garfield’s nemesis, Roscoe Conkling, is proof of that.

Our rankings of Millard’s second book were a 4.8 out of 5 for Interest, 4.8 for Readability, and 6 who said they would definitely read another of Millard’s books (we already have!); two said probably, but they would want to know about the subject first. 

Defying social conversational conventions, we jump from politics this month to religion next month when we discuss The Evolution of God by Robert Wright on Thursday, 24 January 2013. Happy Holidays!