I was somewhat disappointed in this book, as all the rave reviews made me think it must be great. Though it is a competently written story of a period that is probably obscure to most of the modern audience, I found it somewhat ponderous and unable to live up to its ambitious title: Destiny of the Republic. After finishing it, I was left wondering what part of the story was supposed to shed light on the destiny of the republic.
It does inform us about Garfield, an admirable individual who pursued education ardently, accomplished much as a scholar, achieved respect as a youthful Civil War general, and became president without coveting the position (so unlike all our modern candidates). It is also informative about the woeful state of medicine in the United States in the 1880s. (However, that topic has been much better dealt with in
Reflecting on the many worthwhile components of this book, I am left wondering why I was ultimately underwhelmed. I think it is a combination of several things--1) the story is predictable: there was Garfield the Good, Guiteau the Dangerous Nut, A. Bell the obsessive inventor, Conkling the Crooked Politician, etc. I think the only one who deviates from the script is Arthur, who certainly does change his character (though a cynic might conclude that he could afford to do that once president because he did not need Conkling anymore). The rest of them plod along in predictable ways to a predictable conclusion. 2) This is not really a profound story in terms of historical importance. Garfield served three months, and while he might have become a good or great president, he was just a momentary blip in the White House. Bell's invention did not have the great impact of his other invention--the telephone. Guiteau was a small man with a small personality, unlike the dramatically malevolent J. Wilkes Booth and his crew of ruffians. He was intrinsically no more important to history than a mosquito that causes a great personage to die of malaria or yellow fever. 3) The narrator is talented in terms of voices, but narrates the story with no appreciation of the incongruity of his rapid switching back and forth between the falsetto of a young female and the deep baritone of Garfield or Dr. Bliss. My wife and I were listening to this on a long drive in Virginia, and at several points we could not refrain from laughing.
With all due respect to my Audible listening colleagues who loved this book, I dissent. At the same time, it is enlightening as to a worthwhile but obscure president and as to the innocence of an age when the American public thought of the president as like a member of the family.
Report Inappropriate Content