I love to be blown away by a book!! I love that rare ocassion when you randomly pick up a book and hope it will at least hold your interest just until something else comes along, to listen half-heartedly, then--be drawn in thoroughly, completely--to the point where you forget everything around you and become so engrossed in the story that the house could be burning down around you and you wouldn't notice till your toes got hot!
In the case of Destiny of the Republic, it isn't the history of 20th president James Garfield alone that catapults this book into the category of toe-toasting "amazing"...it is the meticulous research and straightforward writing of former National Geographic writer and editor, Candice Millard--a truly great historian/author (and we could probably add detective). A book about Garfield would never have been tops on my Wish List, but I'd read Millard's first book, River of Doubt, (about Theodore Roosevelt's trip on the Amazon) and found it fascinating. Based on that read, I figured I had a winner. Now I have to say, Destiny of the Republic is even better, and I have a new picture of Garfield and wonder what might have been.
The book establishes the dignified character of Garfield, the high esteem the people had for him, his erudition, and his humanity. It goes into detail about the schizo plottings of the crazed assassin, Guiteau (and some fascinating history of the "insanity plea"). But, it focuses largely on the 79 day period while Garfield, Guiteau's led bullet lodged somewhere deep in his back, suffered at the hands of the woefully arrogant Dr. D. Willard Bliss, and the dedicated Alexander Graham Bell's fervent race against time to perfect his "induction balance machine" in hopes of locating the bullet and saving Garfield from Dr. Bliss, and therefore, Garfield's life. The details of the dreadful and ridiculously archaic treatments Garfield suffered through at the hands of the ignorant Bliss, and the account of the autopsy, are painful to read about and shed light on the great progress medicine has made. At his trial for the murder of Garfield, Guiteau nonchalantly admitted to shooting Garfield, but insisted that he did not kill Garfield, rather it was "malpractice killed Garfield."
A slower first half, but you'll be rewarded with a mesmerizing tale, some fascinating medical history and facts, all wonderfully narrated by Paul Michael. *If Candice Millard wrote the history books for school--the students would never miss a day. Fantastic read I highly recommend to history buffs and non-history buffs alike.
Truly unforgettable piece of investigative journalism at its best; the emotions in the reviews attest to the haunting staying power of the horrific events being recounted. Meticulously researched and presented in a way that has you feel the impending storm approaching with each page, compounded by the prescience of tragedy. Fink gives a brief explanation of the geography and history of the land and the levees, and some insight as to the worse case scenario prior to the storm. The land so dependent on the infrastructure of the system -- the citizens also dependent on the systems. What follows is a domino effect-like breakdown of those systems that had provided such a false sense of security, from the personal morals and responsibilities, to the corporate policies, to the government. Fink shows a top-rate journalist's ability to accurately report the events unattached to opinion, having each person responsible for their actions without labeling them good guy/bad guy; and there are times, in certain situations that you flip back and forth with your own judgements, but always keep the weight of decision in your own mind.
The account does get long as it goes over the legal process and how it was perceived by the media, but the details helped -- like a necessary stretch after a long hard workout, stress relief; and it is an interesting look at the machinations of the legal system and corporate power. Still, a fact to consider for some readers. Kristen Potter gives a flawless and pragmatic performance, always concise and neutral, piling onto the reader the responsibility of their own conclusion. I remembered a disaster preparedness drill we went through at our hospital to pass the JCAHO guidelines... The drill-coordinator gave us the ol' *who would you throw out of the boat if the boat was going to sink* dilemma. The supervisors in the boats started rationalizing whom and why, as the drill-coordinator listened straight faced. When everyone had decided on whom to toss overboard to lighten their boat, the coordinator said, "but, you have to get everyone safely to shore." We, the Hospital Administrative Directors, had not counted on that possibility.
I found the book fascinating and heartbreaking. One of the few times I have felt truly like I was walking in the shoes of another, from an obese paralyzed black man, to an old beloved mother, to a frantic nurse with children at home, to a doctor juggling whom to put on the rescue helicopter, to a daughter hundreds of miles away. I certainly have made some moral adjustments. Excellent, informative, very haunting.
Our fascination with Jefferson, the "sphinx" President, is obvious in the seemingly never-ending volumes of Jefferson biographies published. D. Malone's ambitious PP winning Jefferson and His Times, (all 6 volumes) - never mentions Sally Hemings; Gordon-Reed's single volume The Hemingses of Monticello is all about Jefferon's child with Hemings - his wife's half white, slave, and half-sister; W. H. Adam writes exstensibly on Jefferson's years in Paris; R. B. Bernstein biography covers the whole man, including some of Jefferson's "ambiguous legacies". Meacham has now written what I think is one of the more readable biographies on Jefferson available, or at least the pragmatic side of this multifaceted man, with a good narrative style and an easy to listen to reading by Edward Herrmann. (*"more readable"...in so far as I have NOT read Malone's volumes, but have read the other books mentioned).
T. S. Eliot wrote, "Between conception and creation, there falls the shadow," Meacham focuses on Jefferson in that shadow -- his quest for power and discipline, and the struggle to use that power to unify a divided country and create a course for that new nation. This focus doesn't restrict Meacham, and he has adeptly editted massive amounts of information about this enigmatic man into a book that still has some new revelations, but the author does take advantage of this focus to pussy-foot around some of the more contradictory elements associated with Jefferson. There is either little written about Jefferson's philosophies and his personal conflicts, or Meacham takes the half-full approach, allowing that it takes great power to do that which is better for the whole than for oneself.
Jefferson seems to get more enigmatic with each biography published, but each adds a dimension. The Art of Power presents Jefferson in the light of our modern day; a "flawed giant" balancing politics, science and art. A very impressive and timely listen that should appeal even to those of you that have conquered Malone's 6 volumes.