President Garfield: From Radical to Unifier

S. & S. Jul. 2023. 624p. ISBN 9781982146917. $35. BIOG
Historian Goodyear reviews aspects of the life of James Abram Garfield (1831–1881), who was born in a log-cabin in Ohio and became a scholar, an ordained Disciples of Christ minister, a college president, a Civil War general, a congressman, a lawyer, and the United States’ 20th president (the second one to be assassinated). The author includes, but does not lengthily discuss, some unflattering facts. For example, there’s mention of how Garfield tricked the Indigenous Salish tribe out of their land in the Pacific Northwest on behalf of the federal government, and there are details about an extramarital affair. A great deal of the narrative focuses on Garfield’s wartime years, including his friendship with the Catholic convert Gen. William Starke Rosecrans, who widened Garfield’s religious outlook. As president, Garfield intended to reform civil service, which wouldn’t happen until the administration of his successor, Chester A. Arthur. Perhaps too many pages are devoted to Garfield’s end-of-life medical mistreatment; on this, Candice Millard’s Destiny of the Republic is the more focused presentation.
VERDICT Despite its engaging flowery prose, perhaps inspired by the literary aspects of Garfield’s diaries, this book’s length might attract only serious scholars. General readers may want to consider Benjamin Arrington’s The Last Lincoln Republican.
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