A. It’s a coincidence. I was casting around for another book idea and I wasn’t necessarily interested in writing about another president. I like to write about science. I was researching Alexander Graham Bell and stumbled upon the story of him trying to invent something to find the bullet in Garfield. I didn’t know anything about Garfield beyond the fact that he had been assassinated, so I started to research him and I was just blown away. I couldn’t believe what an extraordinary man this was who has been almost completely forgotten.
Q. Do you hope your book will revive Garfield’s memory?
A. Absolutely, I do. Who knows how many people will read the book or what they’ll come away with, but having spent three years with the man and this time in history, I found him very admirable and I found it a real loss to the nation that he’s been forgotten. I think there’s a lot we can learn from him and from this tragedy.
Q. Like what?
A. What struck me is that it doesn’t take a large event to cause a national tragedy. In this case it was one man’s madness and another man’s petty ambitions that led to the death of a president. To me, the lessons are the dangers of arrogance and the importance of things like scientific progress, of broadmindedness, of education. And these are all things that Garfield stood for, that he embodied.
Q. In all the research you did, was there any one thing in particular that you found that was especially striking?