DARK HORSE: The Surprise Election and Political Murder of President James A. Garfield

Kenneth D. Ackerman, Author . Carroll & Graf $26 (416p) ISBN 978-0-7867-1151-2

Several hundred pages of text on Garfield and the politics of his day may seem a stretch, given the gray, hyper-partisan, issueless politics of the Gilded Age. But in Ackerman's hands, the story of Garfield's presidency and murder comes brilliantly alive. Ackerman (an attorney who has worked on Capitol Hill and in the White House and written about Gilded Age scandals) relates with gusto and fizz the story of Garfield's unanticipated nomination as Republican presidential candidate in 1880, his election by a whisker, the travails of his few months in office, and his assassination. It's a story mostly of the struggle for spoils and patronage between two wings of the post–Civil War party of Lincoln. In fact, the lonely, unstable assassin, Charles Guiteau, was a resentful partisan of the wing that Garfield didn't fully reward. Soon after the president's death, and largely as a result, Congress enacted civil service reform. Ackerman brings to life all this and the colorful political figures, mostly senators, who strode the nation's public stage. The trouble is that, like so many works of history these days, it's long on narrative and short, very short, on analysis. You wouldn't know that the political deadlocks of the 1880s deeply, and disastrously, affected the lives of freed slaves, nor do readers learn of agricultural and labor crises, industrial growth or financial shenanigans—the very matters that factional fighting and political murder kept under the rug. It's a pity that Ackerman doesn't apply his skills to such central matters of context and significance. Agent, Jeff Gerekle, JCA Literary Agency. (July)

Reviewed on: 04/28/2003
Release date: 07/01/2003
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 551 pages - 978-0-7867-1396-7
Paperback - 496 pages - 978-1-61945-006-6
Paperback - 496 pages - 978-1-61945-000-4
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