Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Top 10 eBooks

Here are the top ten most popular ebooks during October. You can access these (and our other hundreds of ebooks) from outside Birkbeck - you just need your ITS username and password.

Not sure how to find ebooks? See our previous blog post at

1. Johnson, G., Whittington, R., Scholes, K., Angwin, D., and Régner, P., 2014. Exploring strategy: Text and cases.Tenth edition. Pearson. 5160 views
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2. Glassman, W. E., Hadad, M., and MyiLibrary., 2009. Approaches to psychology.5th ed. London: McGraw-Hill.     3957 views

3. Boddy, D., 2014. Management: An introduction.Sixth edition. Harlow: Pearson.  3826 views
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4. Huczynski, A., and Buchanan, D. A., 2013. Organizational behaviour.Eighth edition. Pearson.   2978 views
5. Dewberry, C., 2004. Statistical methods for organizational research.London: Routledge2339 views

6. Gross, R. D., 2010. Psychology: The science of mind and behaviour.6th ed. London: Hodder Education.  1919 views
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7. Aldridge, S., Rigby, S., and British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy., 2001. Counselling skills in context.London: Hodder & Stoughton    1819 views

8. Oxford English dictionary.2009. Oxford: Oxford University Press    1215 views

9. Lyles, M. A., and Easterby-Smith, M., 2011. Handbook of organizational learning and knowledge management.2nd ed. Chichester: John Wiley. 1008 views
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10. Hoult, E. (2012). Adult learning and la recherche féminine: Reading resilience and Hélène Cixous. New York Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan  835 views

Friday, 21 November 2014

Word to the Wise

Neglected gems of the language for taking down the pub and introducing to your mates. With a True Tale by way of illustration.


Gal-uh-maw-free: Noun, chiefly used to indicate a jumble or confused medley, generally of an absurd kind, the essence being “a bit of a mess,” though the word can also mean a kind of stew, often made of leftovers, this being the original meaning of the word.
And what a wonderfully good word it is too, though perhaps a touch on the challenging side for easing casually into conversation, but don’t let that put you off having a go at so doing. It’ll be well worth it, just to see the awestruck and admiring expressions on the faces of your companions, though it would probably be best to have your coat on ready, just in case. It was our Gallic cousins, the French, who were first bestow it upon us, seeing it comes from the Middle French, galimafrée, probably a conjoining of galer, to make merry or amuse oneself (as in gala, gallant and gallivant), plus mafrer, to eat much and gluttonously, to be something of a greedy pig. Which is quite odd really, seeing that what they were making such edacious gourmandizers of themselves over back then in the sixteenth century, when they found themselves in need of such a term, was basically stew. And it doesn’t get much more basic than stew, does it? And something else that is rather strange is not the vast number of terms that we have at our disposal for describing making a hash of things but the fact that so many are related to victualling, which doesn’t say an awful lot for the culinary prowess of our forefathers, now does it? Or for our own levels of success, for that matter. Making a hash is one, just for starters – well, perhaps not in the sense of as an opening course, but you know what we mean. Having said that, it seems that in some places people actually do have it for breakfast, particularly in the USA where they refer to such a dish as hash browns. Hash is basically diced meat, potatoes and spices with maybe some onion thrown in there somewhere before all being fried up together, often with an egg or two plonked on top, the word itself coming from the French (again), hacher, to chop, as in hatchet.
Hotchpotch: there’s another one for pointing out when a raight pig’s ear been made of matters (often out of a silk purse, that saying coming from the hard fact that the only thing you’ll make out of a pig’s ear is a pig’s ear). Though all you Law-minded folk out there will no doubt be leaping up and down at this very moment ready to insist most vociferously that hotchpotch was originally, and still is, a legal term – strictly speaking, hotch-pot – dating back to as long ago as 1292, when it really was a bona fide great big pot, which, in very simple terms, was used for gathering together the belongings of a deceased person in order to distribute it evenly amongst the kith and kin. The word comes from the French (yet again), hocher, which they nicked off the Germans (well, from Germanic, seeing there was no Germany back then, in the days before penalty shoot-outs) and meaning to shake, so literally a shaken pot, or one in which the whole lot is bunged in together and then thoroughly stirred up to make sure everybody gets a bit of everything that’s in it. Nowadays, it usually arises in cases of divorce (and things rarely get messier than there, let’s face it) or to allocate the shares of a deceased person's estate:

In English law, Hotch-pot or hotch-potch is the name given to a rule of equity whereby a person, interested along with others in a common fund, and having already received something in the same interest, is required to surrender what has been so acquired into the common fund, on pain of being excluded from the distribution.”

But, by the fifteenth century, the word had once again come to mean a stew, often thickened with barley. Then there’s salmagundi, of course, another mixed dish rather like hash and containing chopped meat or fish and various other ingredients, often served as a salad but commonly used to refer to any mixture or miscellany. Once more, it’s the French at the back of it, seeing it comes from salemine, or salted food (salami is from the same Latin sal – salt – root) plus condir, to season (hence condiment). And even salad has the same root, salad to the Romans being vegetables served in brine – seawater – which sounds utterly ghastly but, apparently and rather bizarrely, they loved it and couldn’t get enough of it, though do bear in mind that this was a people whose other pleasures included crucifixion, scourging and (allegedly) throwing Christians to the lions, something that, in all probability, never actually happened. Bet they just gave them a helping of their salad instead.

Best not leave out our Scandinavian cousins, the Swedish, whilst we’re at it – a people who gave their name to a root vegetable cross between a cabbage and a turnip, the Swede (strictly the Swedish Turnip), which may go some way to explaining the unrivalled and bloodthirsty savagery of the Vikings and Norsemen (later to become the Normans also) – who have a word of their very own, (now ours also) smorgasbord, which is actually a variety of cold or hot savoury dishes, such as pâté, smoked salmon and so on, served as hors d'oeuvres or as a buffet meal, the word being derived from smörgås, sandwich, and bord, table. The term actually reflects a more cultured and organised approach on the part of the Swedish to catering, avoiding as it does the ‘bung whatever’s closest at hand into the pot and hope for the best’ (giving us our “potluck”) and has come to mean a very wide, and generally desirable, variety and choice.

We English, on the other hand, have our shambles, often used with an adjective such as utter or complete, and conveying a scene of horrific mess or carnage, though the word really means a butcher’s shop or stall (or a row of such) and possibly a slaughterhouse, where things may look grisly and “shambolic” but are usually in good functional order. The word comes from Latin, scamellum, meaning a small bench or stool. Legend has it that Robin Hood had his shambles in the Major Oak in Nottinghamshire, where he would hang up the deer he’d poached off the much maligned Sherriff of said county but, seeing that another legend also has it that Little John is buried in a nine foot grave in Hathersage, Derbyshire, then rather like the Roman carrot, we need to take it with a generous pinch of salt. Hathersage, by the bye, was used as a setting in parts of Jane Eyre.

Then there’s the word mess itself, used for both an untidy and disordered jumble, and for a meal taken together or the people taking such a repast. So, why do we eat in a mess, then? Go and stand at the back right now and have a good hard think about yourselves, all you ladies out there who just said, “because you’re blokes, that’s why.” It’s down to the French once again, of course, by way of the Romans, the Old French word, mes, meaning a dish of food, as in a course, which comes from Late Latin, missus, “what is sent”, making it a placing on the table of what has been sent out from the kitchens. Missus in itself comes from Latin, mittere, which means to send forth, to set out or to let go. Which is how mess also comes to mean something that has rather let itself go. Message and mission are from this same root.

And so we come now to farrago, which, in its truest meaning is literally a mash or mix of grains for feeding cattle, from Latin, far, corn, plus the suffix -ago, denoting of a kind or nature but, once again, now used for an incomprehensible mixture or complete mish-mash. Even so, not to be confused with Farage, which is an unpalatable compound of roughage and other coarse detritus fed to the less discerning and undomesticated livestock that inhabit the lowland areas of south eastern England. Next up, miscellany: yet another word for a jumbled collection or mixed bag of possibly dubious quality or worth but, before we hear any grumbles or dark mutterings about “what’s that got to do with affairs culinary when it’s at home” (and, presumably therefore, not in the kitchen), we had better point out that, whilst the term gained use around the 1590s to mean "a writing on miscellaneous subjects," from the Latin, miscellanea, this was originally the word for the meat hash or hodgepodge that was fed to gladiators. Well, you wouldn’t want to be going into the arena to do bloody battle with nothing in the old tum but a load of chopped vegetables that have been marinated in nothing tastier than seawater, would you? 

Mind you, perhaps the Romans really were onto something with their version of salad, seeing that the word marinated is ultimately rooted in mare, Latin for sea. Miscellanea eventually, and if you’ll forgive the phrase, boils down to miscere, to mix, from which we also get (via the Old French, medler, to mix or quarrel) the words medley (which they used for hand-to-hand combat), meddle, melee (brawling this time: the French seemed to need a lot of terms for fighting amongst themselves at one stage) and melange (by which our geologist colleagues mean a metamorphic rock formation created from materials scraped off the top of a downward moving tectonic plate in a subduction zone, as you already knew, though what they’re actually getting at is a load of rocks, no two of which are the same). And we can hardly finish this time’s pot pourri of verbiage without giving a well-deserved mention to that fellow himself, the good old pot pourri, often used to denote those teabag-like affairs full of herbs that we whack into the casserole in the delusional belief that it will somehow provide some vague hint of flavour. Once again, it’s the French to blame, though the Spanish may have had a hand in it too with their olla podrida (another term for an incongruous mixture), both of which mean nothing more edifying than, quite literally, rotten pot, being from the Latin, putrere, to be rotten, as in putrefy

Just time for a very quick True Tale, which, for any of you who have been unfortunate enough to spend any length of time on the dole, will be all too familiar; for those who have not, and for our overseas friends, it may perhaps provide a useful insight into the rigorous thinking of those who tread the corridors of power, by which we mean the government in general and the good old Department of Works & Pensions in particular, currently in the capable hands of that intellectual heavyweight, Iain Duncan Smith: he may not have much on top of his head but, by golly, there’s a durn sight less going on inside it.

 Now, those of you who have been absolutely fascinated by the triumphant landing of Philae on the comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko recently and who also might also be aware of the absurd stories once headlined in the Sunday Sport (allegedly a newspaper) such as Double Decker Frozen in Antarctic Ice or World War 2 Bomber Found on Moon, you might have been tempted to speculate on when all these events might be melded together into one achievable project. Don’t mock. The whole idea may sound as ludicrous as Iain Duncan Smith and the entire output of that worthless softporn rag, the Sport, all rolled together into one into one gigantic buffoon, but stick with it and together, someday, we will see Man land a bus on the moon. The work is already underway.
Back with, or on, the dole, government policy appears to be as sensible and well-thought-out as it has ever been, with ministers firmly of the view that, rather than let their army of JobSeekers (as we were then, back in the day) spend their days searching for gainful employment, much more could be achieved by having a large number of them (or a Sponge, as the official collective term seems to be) foregather in some abandoned office space or other to then be coached by a team of enablers, themselves still JobCentre fresh (and this the best they could aspire to), who will then attempt to coax and cajole, slowly and painfully, from their reticent and reluctant victims, a rehearsed, especial and, ultimately, pointless hotchpotch of words or phrases in an excruciatingly designed and ill-considered exercise along the lines of What Are the Barriers Back into Work? The glib and entirely erroneous answer to which is, of course, There Are None but, instead of just saying that at the outset, we are put through the tedious palaver of muttering out suggestions that are then daubed in large felt-tip letters across a page until an entire flipchart has been sacrificed to this meaningless endeavour.

At which point we come to the particular morning in question, the poser being set to our own gallimaufry being What Do I See Myself Doing? One by one we are interrogated: what do we want to do and how will we go about attaining that goal? A tangible, almost visible, gloom settles lead-heavy over the entire room as, with dread and loathing, we each see our own turn inexorably approaching along the serried rows, the usual predictable unambitious but ultimately realistic responses appearing one after another: hairdresser, bartender, machine-operator, chef, waitress, chippy or bricky, on into oblivion …

And then we reach the bright-looking Indian fellow, who states clearly and categorically, with outrageous aplomb and effrontery, the heights that he intends to scale, at which the entire congregation inhales a collective breath of awe and wonderment as he informs us that:

‘I’m going to be an aeronautical engineer.’

This rather takes the apocryphal wind out of the enabler’s sails, seeing this was about the last thing he had ever dreamed of, let alone expected. After a moment of flabbergasted silence, he returns, with a brave stab indeed.

‘OK. And how do you intend to go about that?’

Well, obviously, university, get the right qualifications and experience, study hard and apply yourself, you would imagine. Not a bit of it. The plan is astoundingly simple, as he now goes on to outline his mapped-out route into aeronautical engineering:

‘I’m going to become a busdriver, learn how to mend the bus and find out how planes work that way.’

Simple …
Gluttony: Hieronymus Bosch (circa 1450–1516) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Pig: By Dick Culbert from Gibsons, B.C., Canada (Sus Barbatus, the Bornean Bearded Pig) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Nighthawks: Edward Hopper [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Normans: By alipaiman (The Bayeux Tapestry) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Comet: DLR, CC-BY 3.0 [CC-BY-3.0-de (], via Wikimedia Commons
IDS: By Work and Pensions Office, via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, 17 November 2014

Tips on using the Library and its resources: No. 6 - ebooks

Tips on using the Library and its resources: No. 6

This week - how to find and access ebooks

All our ebooks are on our Library catalogue - just search for them as you would search for a print book, by author, by title or by subject.

If we have any ebooks that match your search, you will see Electronic under the Format menu on the right hand side of the screen. The number next to it tells you how many ebooks match your search.

Click on Electronic to see a list of only the ebooks. To log in to an ebook, click on Click here to access ebook. You will need your ITS username and password.

Different publishers have different restrictions on how much you can print and download from their books.
Some restrict the number of pages you can print or download, and it will tell you how many you can have when you click on the print or download icons within the ebook.
Some allow you to download the entire book but only for a short period, such as 24 hours.

All of them allow you to read on screen and most have tables of contents at the side of the screen that enable you to jump to particular chapters or sections. Many of them also allow you to search the books for words and phrases.

If you have any problems accessing an ebook, please contact our help desk

Friday, 14 November 2014

Missed the Post?

Never fear. You can catch up with all our recent posts by clicking on the links below.

New Study Skills Books

Tips on Using the Library No. 5

Tips on Using the Library No.4

Tips on Using the Library No. 3 

And Friday means there's a new Lighter Side item waiting for you, which is below. Keep up to date with all that's new and happening in the Library by making a point of visiting the Blog regularly.

Today's the Day

Anniversaries & Events in Academia & Elsewhere

November 14

 Well now, if you’ve currently been experiencing one of those dour days that seem no better than a sluggard indolent underachiever leaden with inertia, then fear not because, historically speaking, November 14 has traditionally been somewhat slow to get into its stride and, indeed, we have to wait for 1666 to come along before we see any decent action whatsoever. Before we go any further, however, and in order to avoid thousands of irate letters pouring in from all the outraged boffins out there, we should point out that, whilst most of us think of inertia as a complete lack of movement, the physicists (we blame that Kepler bloke for it) define inertia as “the tendency of a body to preserve its state of rest or uniform motion unless acted upon by an external force.” And, just in case we’ve got any pedants, purists or downright etymologists looking in today, the word actually comes from the Latin, iners, which is in- (not) plus ars (art), or, in other words, unskilful. So, in a way, we’re all wrong. But, there you go, a paragraph used up already and we still haven’t achieved anything beyond bickering amongst ourselves, so you can see what kind of a day we’re up against.
Right then, getting back to 1666, if we may, and that can only mean Samuel Pepys, who this day was recording in his diary of how he’d been to see one of the very first blood transfusions (between two dogs), barely four decades after William Harvey had made his discoveries about circulation and the heart. Mind you, as early as 1657, Dr Wren (later Sir Christopher) had made his own experimental stab at injecting various fluids into the veins of animals, achieving what are described as “mixed results.” No doubt someone drew him discreetly to one side and suggested that perhaps the doctoring game wasn’t quite his line and had he thought about having a bash at architecture instead at all? Pepys told his diary that what he had observed this day was “a pretty experiment”, pretty probably meaning something quite different back then, though you’ve always got to bear in mind that our Samuel was the sort of japing rogue that thought it tremendously entertaining sport to go rummaging through a lady’s blousery whilst she was still within it (and boast about it to his diary later). The experiment itself he wrote down as a “very good success”, though the dogs concerned may not have viewed it quite so enthusiastically, the donor especially, a “little mastiff”, seeing he ended up with no blood left at all and subsequently died.

Even earlier still, we get the story of how, in 1492, Pope Innocent VIII lay dying and how his Jewish physician, Giacomo di San Genesio, gave him a transfusion orally, by having him drink the blood of three ten year old boys, which Pepys probably would’ve put down as a very good success, seeing the boys died and, later on, so did the pontiff. This tale is, however, somewhat like the women Pepys got his mitts upon, completely without foundation, being probably no more than anti-Semitism and given away by the rather apocryphal ten year old boys.

Pope Innocent VIII himself, though, is a regular sort and well worth a quick look at while we’re hereabouts. For a start off, he had two illegitimate sons before ever he went priesting and, whilst his nepotism toward his fellow clergy was “as lavish as it was shameless,” one thing he could not abide was witchcraft, going so far as to issue a papal bull on the subject, Summis desiderantes (basically My Big Investigation). Because this was, of course, the time of the Inquisition roaming around all over the place and coming down hard on that kind of thing, the bull being at the instigation of his main man in these matters, Inquisitor Heinrich Kramer, the very fellow who would pen the polemic Malleus Maleficarum in 1486 (literally The Hammer of Witches), in which he would claim of them that they were the ones to blame for bad weather. ("Therefore it is reasonable to conclude that, just as easily as they raise hailstorms, so can they cause lightning and storms at sea; and so no doubt at all remains on these points.") Oh, it’s easy for us to scoff at such ignorant naiveté today here in our enlightened times but bear in mind that there was no Ukip in those days, so how could they possibly have known, like we do, that storms and flooding are actually caused by gay marriages?

By the time we reach 1680, we’re back with the physicists again, Well, for the sake of strict accuracy, the astronomers actually – best get that right, in case they start writing enraged letters too, because we all know what dreadful name-callers astronomers can be. Which is very much the point, as it happens, seeing that when Gottfried Kirch discovered his Great Comet on 14 November 1680, what did they end up dubbing it? C/1680 V1, that’s what. An appellation suffused with all the inspiration and romance of a cabdriver’s sock. To be fair, though, it is also known as Kirch’s Comet and, for some reason, Newton’s Comet too. What makes it special is that it was the first comet to be discovered by telescope and it went on to become one of the brightest ones of the seventeenth century, so much so that it is supposed to have been visible in daylight. On 30 November that year, it passed within 0.42 AUs of Earth – yes, just look at the smug supercilious grins on the faces of the astronomers now (and the physicists too, come to that), because they know what 0.42 AUs actually means as a measurement, whereas to the rest of us it’s about as enriching as that same cabdriver’s loudly stated views on immigration. So, to dispel the myth, an AU or Astronomical Unit (see what we mean about naming) is basically the distance from Earth to the Sun or, in proper money, exactly 149,597,870,700 metres, which doesn’t mean very much at all until we reveal that this is very nearly the same as 2,876,882,129 Nelson’s Columns set end to end. A lot. But still not a very near miss.

Kirch did a fair bit of discovery with his telescope, including, in 1681, the Wild Duck Cluster, (we’d take it all back about naming except) known as open cluster M11 and, in the same year, the Mira variable Chi Cygni, as well as introducing three new constellations: the Reichsapfel, the Kurfürstliche Schwert and the Sceptre of Brandenburg, so at least he had a valiant stab at the naming game. And yet, for a long period, he was entirely unable to find employment (“I’m really looking for something in the comet-spotting line”) and had to earn his living making calendars, poor chap, though he did end up as the first ‘Astronomer Royal’ in Berlin and had a crater on the Moon and an asteroid named after him.

This day 1732 and the USA (or the Thirteen Colonies as they still were then, the Declaration of Independence not coming until 4 July 1776) got its very first professional librarian in the form of Louis Timothée, appointed by none other than Benjamin Franklin himself, whose Junto, or Leather Apron Club (best not to ask), had been set up with aim of self-improvement, reading being an especial favourite amongst the members. The one drawback, however, was that books were rare and expensive, so Franklin hit upon the brilliant idea of a subscription library and thus was formed one of his first philanthropic projects, the Library Company of Philadelphia, which started on 1 July 1731. Though not quite so brilliant on his part was thinking that he could run his library without an actual librarian, a patently absurd notion to us today, rather like suggesting you can grow fish without a hacksaw. By 14 November 1732, he had realised the utter folly of this approach and so Louis Timothée was hired (or Lewis Timothy, as he is commonly known, it being held, back then, as a truth self-evident that all men are created equal but some of them will inevitably be French. He was actually Dutch). He was paid the princely sum of three pounds every trimester, which may not seem like a lot but, then again, he only had to work Wednesdays from two to three and Saturdays from ten to four.
Unlike the Americans to lag behind, but meanwhile the rest of us have been having paid librarians since about 700BC, the first one to get it all going being Ashurbanipal, King of Assyria, who had a library in his palace at Nineveh, though it tended to be tablets in those days rather than books. But, as is only right and proper, they were all arranged in a logical order by subject and type, meaning that cataloguing is every bit as old as the concept of library itself. The Greeks were pretty keen too, counting some big names amongst their librarians, including Apollonius, Aristophanes, Aristarchus, and Callimachus, who would eventually come up with a cataloguing system known as the pinakes, which was hugely popular for centuries until Melvil Dewey came along with his Dewey Decimal Classification in 1876. He was an American, possibly making up for lost time, and, as a young man, advocated spelling reform, changing his name from the original Melville (ditching the superfluous letters) and also, for a while, turning his surname to Dui. Luckily, it didn’t stick, otherwise we might have had people thinking it was the “Dwee Decimal System,” and then where would we be? Bet he’s the blighter responsible for all those hideous sawn-off words like program and color and, indeed, catalog.

We’ll need to skip straight past Charles Darwin “departing by horse for Montevideo” in 1833 (that he suffered horribly from seasickness could be the explanation there) and William Thomson in 1834 entering Glasgow University aged ten years and four months, and even the publication of Moby Dick, all of which came this day, otherwise we won’t have time to mention the very fellow who should be star of any November 14 celebrations: an American preacher by the name of Charles Julius Guiteau who should be infamous but, rather like the rest of us, even some of our American contingency will not have recognised the name. Anyone care to take a guess at his bid for notoriety?
It was this day 1881 that the trial began of Charles J Guiteau, who had flopped in many a trade, including failed politician (though aren’t they all?), theology, law and bill collecting. What set the whole thing in motion was when he wrote a speech in support of Ulysses S. Grant which he later revised to one in support of James A. Garfield, who would win the Presidential election of 1880. Guiteau never delivered the speech in a public (but did print it as a pamphlet in hundreds of copies) and he fully believed that this alone was what had won Garfield the top job and that, as reward, he should himself be given some cushy little earner, say as a diplomat, say in Vienna or, failing that, Paris would do. Garfield’s gratitude proved underwhelming, so Guiteau was left with no option but to shoot him. On 2 July 1881 at a railroad station. He even bungled that in his own inimitable way, seeing Garfield clung to life for a further eleven weeks, the second of four Presidents to be assassinated. Care to name the rest? Three should be easy enough, seeing we’ve already given you one to start with, but who’s the elusive fourth?

As early as 1875, Guiteau’s family had declared him insane and attempted to have him committed; only he escaped and went into politics (rather proving their point really). Having been snubbed by the top brass, he decided that God had commanded him to kill the ungrateful President, so he went out to buy himself a big gun (he had to borrow $15 for it), choosing an ivory-handled .44 Webly British Bulldog because he imagined that it would make a good museum piece after he’d done the deed. It did get into the Smithsonian but they somehow lost it later. Just Guiteau’s luck. He spent the next few weeks on target practice and even wrote to the President to tell him what to expect. Which Garfield ignored. To wrap things up neatly, he paid a visit to the District of Columbia jail in the hope of getting shown round, as he expected to be banged up there later: they told him to come back later, which he would. All June he trailed Garfield around Washington, on one occasion to the railway station, where his victim-to-be was seeing his wife off on a trip to the beach, though Guiteau decided the shooting could wait as the First Lady was in bad health and he “didn’t want to upset her”. Instead, he held off until the main man was heading off on his own summer hols and got him at the railway station, firing at point blank range (so why all the target practice, unless) nearly missing with the first shot and hitting Garfield in the back with the second, before calmly walking off to catch the taxi he had standing by. He was arrested instead.

Guiteau may have shot Garfield but, sadly, it proved to be his own doctors that finished the President off. At first, they said he wouldn’t last the night (he lived eleven weeks) and then they took to probing for the bullet without washing their hands first, and then generally sticking their dirty fingers in entirely the wrong place, one of them puncturing his liver just for good measure. Alexander Graham Bell even devised a metal detector to try and locate the bullet but this proved to be largely unsuccessful, mainly because they’d forgotten that the bedframe was made of metal too. Though Navy engineers did manage to rig up an early version of air conditioning by having fans blow over a large box of ice against the heat of a Washington summer, which worked well enough to lower the temperature by twenty degrees. Nonetheless, Garfield still died, on Monday 19 September.

On 14 November, Guiteau went on trial, amazingly pleading not guilty, because God had told him to do it, and then going on to constantly insult his defence team and giving his testimony in the form of epic poems before singing John Brown’s Body to the court. He remained blissfully unaware of the public’s revulsion and hatred of him (two assassination attempts were made on him), going so far as to advertise for “a nice Christian lady under thirty.” None of did him any good: on 25 January 1882, he was found guilty and condemned to the rope, his execution being set for 30 June that year. Even then, he was not done, dancing his way to the gallows before shaking hands with his executioner, waving to the crowd and then reciting a lengthy poem he had written that morning, called I am Going to the Lordy. He had wanted full orchestra backing for this last (request denied) but he sang it solo, though numerous times breaking down to sob on the shoulder of the nearest man. The hood was then put over his head and, at the agreed signal (he would drop the paper the poem was written on), he was sent to meet the Lordy. 

Your four assassinated Presidents are, of course, Abraham Lincoln (15 April 1865); Garfield, as we’ve seen; William McKinley, the generally overlooked one (14 September 1901); and John F. Kennedy, also in November (22 November 1963). How did you do? Bizarrely, it was not until the Twenty-fifth Amendment was ratified in 1967 that there was an official procedure for what to do if the President became incapacitated. We British, on the other hand, and without wanting to sound too pompous and superior about it, have an absolutely foolproof method of ensuring nothing calamitous befalls Our Glorious Leader: we simply utter those three dread words: Clegg’s In Charge …


Pepys: By John Hayls (1600–1679) (Flickr) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Comet over Rotterdam: Lieve Verschuier - painting by Dutch artist Lieve Verschuier [public domain]

Kirch: By Polylerus at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Librarian: Giuseppe Arcimboldo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Guiteau: By Unknown photographer, cropped by User:Connormah [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Garvey Shot: By A. Berghaus and C. Upham, published in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Franklin: Joseph-Siffrein Duplessis [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons