, ,

Why do you call this “Currently Reading” if it’s a book review?

I know, I know. I actually finished this about two weeks ago. I know I should call this segment “Finished Reading”, but… whatever. This is still an excellent book and an easy read. Plus, I don’t feel like editing and retagging.

Get a hold of yourself.

What’s it about?

Candice Millard weaves the personal history of President James A. Garfield with the life, and unraveling sanity, of Charles Guiteau, Garfield’s assassin. Garfield – who took office 17 years after Lincoln was shot – was nominated from out of nowhere; he most definitely did not have “presidential fever”. His brief term in office centered his quest to end political patronage. It was this quest to end the ‘jobs for votes’ exchange that led Guiteau to shoot Garfield because he thought he was owed a job that he didn’t get.

what other weird, strange, fascinating or wonderful personalities are in it?

Excellent question. It IS a strange story.

It also involves regretful-inventor-of-the-telephone Alexander Graham Bell (who invented a metal detector to find the bullet in Garfield’s body and was really happiest teaching deaf students), Dr. Joseph Lister (as in Listerine) and his controversial-nowhere-else-but-America ideas about antiseptic procedures (the bullet didn’t kill Garfield, the doctors putting their dirty fingers in the wound did; it’s gross), and Senator Roscoe Conkling of New York (the reigning king of patronage who hated Garfield because Conkling’s considerable power rested in giving jobs to friends in exchange for votes).

It also illustrates the fascinating almost-redemption of Chester A. Arthur, who was the ultimate product of the patronage system. He was Garfield’s no-show, do-nothing vice-president who fiercely prayed for Garfield’s recovery because he, like the rest of America, realized how horribly unqualified he was to become president.

This is a really cool slice of history about a part of American history that doesn’t get much traction.