Who says history is boring? To me, it is fascinating! This book, though it started out a bit slow, turned out to be a very engaging read. It is a fascinating historical account of the failed assassination attempt on President Garfield and the aftermath of horrifying medical malpractice that actually took his life in the end. I did not know much about President Garfield before reading this book. He seems like a great man to me. It takes a certain strength of character to be able endure the horrors that he had endured and still be able to feel gratitude. I was horrified to read how he literally rotted to death under the care of a strictly traditional, egoistic and closed-minded doctor.
It was also very interesting to read about Alexander Graham Bell and his passion for science. He made big sacrifices and endured major losses in his personal life, but in the end, he also made significant contributions to humanity. I think some people are born with extraordinary minds. They are born to do great things which require great sacrifices, something that often is difficult to be accepted by their loved ones.
Every character in this book from Garfield himself, to his shy and introverted wife Lucretia, to the man who tried to kill him (Guiteau) and the doctor who actually ended up killing him, has been described carefully and meticulously to the reader, by giving only the necessary amount of background and information at the right time. In the end, all these characters come together in the story and the reader can see how ego, arrogance and closed-mindedness can lead to major disasters for the humanity. It is also clear at the end how justice can be affected by popular bias (the court proceedings in the end reminded me of ‘To Kill the Mocking Bird’).
Who is the real killer here? An insane man who believed that he was carrying out God’s wish? Or the closed-minded doctor who refused to solicit any advice from his contemporaries because he wanted all the glory to himself. On that note, isn’t it interesting how we still see such characters in our daily lives? May be we have not progressed as much after all, atleast in some areas? The unanimous hatred among the American people for Guiteau also reminded me of some situations that were in the news recently (eg: Nirbhaya Delhi Rape Case) that caused a huge public outcry with passionate calls for death sentence, public castration, etc for the accused. While I understand the outrage, I also do not feel like I am equipped enough to determine their punishment just because I am horrified by their crimes. Things are never so black and white in my opinion. There are always shades of grey which is why in a democracy, we have laws and courts and a justice system in place to methodically dissect the crimes that were committed and issue an unbiased (hopefully) verdict.
I believe that history holds many important lessons for those of us who are keen on learning. This book definitely enlightened me on a few subjects. I got to know a couple of great men like President Garfield and Alexander Graham Bell via this book. I feel like I moved forward a bit in my own personal journey by reading this book. It was a gratifying read, well worth 5 stars.