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Award Winners, Biography, U.S. History

The definitive biography of America’s 20th president, James A. Garfield. Exhaustively researched and skillfully written.

Award Star IconWinner of the Ohio Academy of History Award, the Ohioana Book Award in History, and a Choice Outstanding Academic Book of the Year.

DescriptionThis landmark biography of our twentieth president reflects not only a renewal of interest in Garfield the man, but in the Gilded Age of American politics in which he played so influential a role. Moving from the battlefield to Congress before the end of the Civil War, Garfield had a hand in almost everything of national importance for two decades, the years of peace. As a party leader he, along with his friend James G. Blaine, forged the modern Republican Party into the instrument which would lead the United States into the twentieth century, and though his presidency was cut short by an assassin’s bullet, he succeeded in rescuing the office from the shadows of Johnson and Grant, elevated it above Congress, and began the accretion of presidential power that has lasted to our own day.

To the public James A. Garfield was a beloved nineteenth-century success story, the self-made man climbing from poverty to national leader, the last of the “log cabin” presidents. But the man behind the public portrait was much more complex, even contradictory. He was a pacifist turned soldier, an educator turned politician, a preacher turned economist, a man of essentially literary tastes cast in the role of party chieftain. Continually racked by self-doubts, he nevertheless was so convinced of his destiny that he never actively sought any office—and never lost an election.

Allan Peskin’s masterful biography combines the public and private Garfield in a smooth-flowing narrative that will fascinate the general reader as well as enlighten the scholar. The Garfield story includes the account of the Ohio canal boy who worked his way through college—and later became president of that same Hiram College. It is the story of a minister who led Union troops through a blundering campaign in the Kentucky wilderness and emerged a national hero and a general. It is the romance of the diffident husband who, some time after the wedding, and somewhat to his own surprise, fell in love with his wife. It is the high drama of Gilded Age politics, disputed elections, and narrow victories during the era in which the modern, industrial, continent-spanning United States was being forged and many of its social and political attitudes were shaped. Finally, it is the story of an assassination at the hands of a religious fanatic before the character of the president could truly be tested in office.

From these rich materials a fully rounded portrait of Garfield and his time emerges. He rises above the image of a good-natured back-slapper and forgotten—if “martyred”—president to which history has relegated him.


AuthorThe late Allan Peskin was professor of history at Cleveland State University.  His books include Volunteers, the edited diaries of two soldiers in the Mexican War, and North Into Freedom, the edited autobiography of John Malvin, an Ohio free Black.

  • Winner of the Ohio Academy of History Award
  • Winner of the Ohioana Book Award in History
  • A Choice Outstanding Academic Book of the Year.
  • “Garfield’s military career, the congressional years, the Presidency, receive thorough attention and evaluation, and one of the delights of this massive biography is that Peskin writes so well … This is a brilliant and skillful portrait of a man of many parts, of the political and social landscape of his time.”―Publishers Weekly
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