"They must not be knocked down with bludgeons. They must have their throats cut with a feather."
This book is a gem. Like the cover boasts, this book is about madness, medicine and the murder of our 20th president, James Garfield. What is even more amazing than the fact that Garfield's presidency lasted a mere 200 days, is that the wounds sustained by bullets of the mad Charles Guiteau were not fatal. He was unlucky to walk into that train station on the morning of July 2, 1881, but even unluckier to have such an incompetent, pertinacious lead physician that his care was entrusted to. I am no doctor, but surely thrusting your unsanitized finger into a gunshot wound is not the best way to assess the situation. The resulting infection would eventually lead to the agonizing death of a notoriously eloquent man that never intended to be president in the first place.
Millard is promising young writer from Kansas City that attacks this story with passion. It is clear from the opening paragraph that she has an intense love of history and the means to bring it to life. This book is filled with authentic characters who all in some way or another managed to have their fingerprints left upon the unfortunate account of James Garfield; Joseph Lister, whose conviction towards sanitization of medical instruments would someday dramatically shift the way surgeries were performed. The uncanny Alexander Graham Bell gave up precious months of his time to come up with a machine capable of locating the bullet buried inside the bowels of Garfield. Then there is Guiteau. Charles Guiteau was a strange man with an intriguing story behind his road to insanity, hell bent on securing his place in history. Taking these intrigingly surly figures and mixing in the backdrop of an unstable, new formed country, 16 years after the Civil War, we get the makings of a great story. I highly recommend checking this book out as it reminded me a lot of Devil in the White City (a past favorite). You will inevitably learn something new about one of the shortest tenures in the oval office while also gleaning an new perspective on what it would have been like to be a doctor around the late 1800's. History freak or not, this book is worth reading.