The first is a narrative history about the assassination of President James Garfield. The second is a personal account of a recent expedition into the deepest recesses of the Brazilian jungle to look for without actually finding a tribe that has never had direct contact with the modern world. I’m enjoying both but early on in both I hit upon what I regard as major errors of fact and it’s made me dubious about the veracity of both authors.
Ok, you might think these are trivial errors, but they happen to involve two areas in which I flatter myself I’m an expert. Dickens and TV sitcoms.
In Destiny of the Republic, Millard writes that Garfield, who loved to read, nicknamed one of his daughters Trot after “Elizabeth Trotwell,” a character in David Copperfield, his favorite novel by Charles Dickens,
There is no character named Elizabeth Trotwell in David Copperfield.
There is a character named Betsy Trotwood. David’s Aunt Betsy who is kind of a major character. She is never called Trot. When she adopts her orphaned nephew she renames him Trotwood Copperfield and starts calling him Trot. I guess you could make the case that since she renamed him after herself, calling him Trot was calling him by her own name, so in calling his daughter Trot Garfield had nicknamed her after Aunt Betsy by one degree of separation. But it’s more of an homage and still, Trotwell is not Trotwood.
What did you say? You think that’s inconsequential? You think I’m being picky and pedantic? All right, then, wiseguy. How about this? It’s even more flagrant and inexcusable.
At one point in The Unconquered Wallace describes the headgear of the leader of the expedition:
The front visor of his jungle hat was folded back on his forehead, like the bugler on F Troop…
Everybody knows that Dobbs---and you all remember F Troop’s musically-challenged bugler’s name was Dobbs, right?---Dobbs wore his hat in the standard TV Western style of the 1950s and 60s. Sergeant O’Rourke and Corporal Agarn wore theirs with the brims folded up in front as signals to the audience that they were not to be taken for regulation Army types and marched to their own, probably stolen or otherwise illegally obtained, drums.
You doubt me?
Ha, I say again. And double ha!
All right. You’re onto me. This whole post was an excuse to post the video.
But I’m really enjoying the books and I’ll be posting reviews when I’m done with them.Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard and Scott Wallace's The Unconquered: In Search of the Amazon's Last Uncontacted Tribes are available from Amazon in hardback and kindle editions.