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

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Said scientific wonders included the unsung work of a Scotsman named Alexander Graham Bell, who – thanks to an improbable encounter with the emperor of Brazil – becomes an overnight wunderkind for his invention of the telephone.

Nearby, British surgeon Joseph Lister stands before America’s elite doctors and surgeons lecturing on antisepsis, his groundbreaking theory of killing germs to prevent post-operative infection and death in patients. Though Lister’s methods had already dramatically reduced death rates in operating rooms across Europe, in the United States he faced a skeptical audience wary of sterilizing instruments or even washing lab coats before surgery.

With this foundation in place, Millard builds a popular history that is both substantive and satisfying. Filled with memorable characters, hairpin twists of fate and consequences that bring a young nation to the breaking point, “Destiny of the Republic” brings back to roaring life a tragic but irresistible historical period.

This is Millard’s second book, following “The River of Doubt,” her account of Theodore Roosevelt’s near-death experience on the Amazon River. That book proved popular with readers and critics alike, and “Destiny of the Republic” shows no signs of a sophomore jinx.

Garfield may not rival Roosevelt’s larger-than-life character, but, as Millard’s meticulous research and anecdotes reveal, he was an admirable figure. For a country still beset by post-Reconstruction disunion, Garfield’s integrity and fairness helped to foster a more truly united United States.

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