Edgar Winner: Best Fact Crime

Posted: June 21, 2012 in Book Awards, Edgar Awards, Presidents, USA

I read a book review a few weeks ago that began ‘ ***** ****** is a hero of mine’.  As the author ***** ****** in question is alive and has not accomplished anything of note I wondered about the sanity of the reviewer.

But that has not put me off starting this post with ‘James Garfield is a hero of mine’. Garfield accomplished a great deal rising from abject poverty to become a scholar, a Civil War hero, a congressman and finally to reach the White House; but sadly like Lincoln before him was assassinated.

My copy of Prague Fatale was a bit too bulky to take to the garage for the two hour wait while my small economical car had new tyres and laser digital computer rebalancing. Frankly I think I could do with a bit of laser digital computer rebalancing after paying the bill!

Therefore I took along my newly arrived paperback copy of the Edgar Best Fact Crime winning book by Candice Millard- Destiny of the Republic, A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President. It proved to be packed with absolutely fascinating  details about the lives of President Garfield, Charles Guiteau, his crazed assassin,  Alexander Graham Bell and others. Who knew that when President Hayes travelled to Philadelphia for the opening ceremony of the Centennial Exhibition, he bought a ticket and boarded the train like everyone else?

In two hours I was on page 127 and entranced even more by General Garfield’s character and wisdom.

“Assassination can be no more guarded against than death by lightening’, he wrote, ‘and it is best not to worry about either.”

And from his inaugural address:

” The emancipated race has already made remarkable progress. With unquestioning devotion to the Union, with patience and gentleness not born of fear, they have ‘followed the light as God gave them to see the light’……..They deserve the generous encouragement of all good men. So far as my authority can lawfully extend they shall enjoy the full and equal protection of the Constitution and the laws.”

But in a book dealing with some very serious subjects author Candice Millard manages to lighten matters a little with her accounts of the antics of the “insane” Charles Guiteau. 

Guiteau made several failed attempts to become an evangelist when arriving in a town he would distribute handbills announcing his lectures. 

On most nights, only a handful of people showed up, and after Guiteau began to speak they either heckled him or simply left.

After he gave a lecture titled “Is There a Hell?” to an unusually large crowd at the Newark Opera House, the Newark Daily Journal ran a jeering review with the headline

” Is there a hell? Fifty deceived people are of the opinion that there ought to be.” 

  1. Margot Kinberg says:

    Norman – Oh, I like the sound of this one. And it focuses on an era and on a person that most people haven’t heard about very much. I don’t wonder you fell under this book’s spell. And please don’t mention the price of car repairs. I’m already wincing thinking of one or two things that need doing on my own car *sigh.*

  2. Norman Price says:

    Margot- I haven’t reached the incompetent medics part of the book yet, as unusually for me I am reading two books at the same time, but I think that will be interesting. [Bitter Water; Gordon Ferris shortlisted for the Ellis Peters along with Prague Fatale]
    We have a very small car, and after hiring a large luxury 7 seater MPV Ford Galaxy to transport children and grandchildren to my son’s wedding I was tempted to upscale. But not now!

  3. Barbara says:

    I’ve heard such good things about this book. I might just have to read it someday.

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