News & Media

“Why Garfield?” by Author Gail Jarrow

A guest blog by author Gail Jarrow.

Why Garfield? by Gail Jarrow

Why did I choose to write about James Garfield’s assassination?  Many people have asked me this question since the October 2021 publication of AMBUSHED!: The Assassination Plot Against President Garfield, the second book in my Medical Fiascoes series from Calkins Creek.

The answer is rooted in my mother’s love of history. During my childhood, she had a subscription to American Heritage magazine. She never threw away the hardcover editions, and I inherited the collection several years ago.  I enjoy reading through the old issues. 

One day I spotted an article about the 1881 Garfield assassination, published a few months after President John Kennedy’s 1963 assassination. The story intrigued me, especially the medical aspects. When I did more research, I discovered important connections between Garfield’s shooting and Civil War medicine, the subject of my first Medical Fiascoes book, BLOOD AND GERMS: The Civil War Battle Against Wounds and Disease (2020).  

James Garfield’s doctors had been Civil War surgeons. They were recognized as gunshot experts, well-qualified to treat the injury of the fallen president. But they hadn’t kept up with advances in medical thought during the sixteen years since the war’s end, namely germ theory and antiseptic practices. Their treatment of Garfield’s wound sealed his fate.

The Medical Fiascoes books have a common theme: Even the most tragic situations can bring progress. Just as the Civil War’s carnage led to changes that improved patient care in the United States, James Garfield’s well-publicized suffering helped to propel the medical community into the twentieth century.  And that has saved countless lives from the ravages of deadly infections. 

Don’t miss the Ambushed! educator’s guide.

Read more from Gail Jarrow, “Why I Write about Deadly Diseases.”