Jennie: Zachary Taylor

Zachary Taylor, by John S.D. Eisenhower

I was fascinated with how Zachary Taylor was 110% a military man and not a political man. He belonged on the battlefield (he loved it) and he didn’t start out there just to move up in the political world. He truly wanted to be a solider, but his reputation pushed him forward even if he wasn’t trying to get there personally.

I have an embarrassing confession – I’m fascinating with the what-might-have-been questions, especially when it comes to presidents. How would things changed had Taylor not died in office? Would he have changed the course of the country regarding the Civil War? Could he have bridged the gap between the North and South? What would the state of our country look like today if he’d lived?

Obviously, this book couldn’t answer those questions, but it did touch on the possibilities. As usual, I keep finding myself wanting longer books even on these lesser known presidents, but this was a great book to get really introduced to Taylor and how he was different than most presidents of his time.

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Jacki: James Garfield

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President, by Candice Millard

Ok, so I just want to say right off the bat that I have not even a single negative word to say about this book. If you want some balanced, fair review look elsewhere because I’m pretty much glowing just writing about it.

I have a lot of little points floating around in the ol’ noggin, so let’s resort to a bulleted list:

  • Ok, so Garfield was at the convention to give a nomination speech and all of a sudden someone mentioned his name as a presidential candidate. He was like “Um. No.” but everyone got all “OMG! YES!” and a few rounds later, Garfield is headed into the election.
  • Let’s just go back over that. People loved him so much that within hours he went from not even thinking of being president to the candidate for his party. Then he won in an absolute landslide. That’s awesome, right? I mean, I just love that.
  • So, for the first few months of every president’s term they were expected to make all these appointments for everyone who needed jobs and voted for him. It sounds exhausting and awful and has killed presidents in the past (RIP William Henry Harrison), but he was just doing his thing. Little did he know one of the guys that was pretty much stalking him for a position was an absolute nut.
  • Garfield is just walking in the train station and said nut shoots him right in the back. Because he was crazy.
  • The shot doesn’t kill Garfield.
  • Doctors proceed to dig around in him, do crazy “medicine” and mess with him until his entire body was filled with gooey, gross infection.
  • He even gets help from Alexander Graham Bell who invited the medal detector in an attempt to find the bullet.
  • No luck. Spoiler Alert: Garfield dies.

If that doesn’t intrigue you, history just must not be your thing… because woah. It was so interesting I seriously could not put it down. How often can you say that about a non-fiction book about a fairly dull time in America’s history. Not often. It was well written, well researched and just overall wonderful.

The main story was, of course, about the president and his situation but there were also side-by-side storylines about the assassin and his history, Alexander Graham Bell and his experiments and the state of medicine at the time and the rise of sanitary operation rooms.

Guys, I know it is nerdy but this just got me. I loved it. I kept reading huge chunks out loud to Shaun and saying “Did you know that……” and going on and on and on.

Read this. Everyone must read this.