The President Is a Sick Man

The President Is a Sick Man:
Wherein the Supposedly Virtuous Grover Cleveland Survives a Secret Surgery at Sea and Vilifies the Courageous Newspaperman Who Dared Expose the Truth

by Matthew Algeo

I usually write book reviews a few days after finishing the book, but in this case, I wasn’t particularly inspired to put my thoughts to paper (so to speak).

The President Is a Sick Man: Wherein the Supposedly Virtuous Grover Cleveland Survives a Secret Surgery at Sea and Vilifies the Courageous Newspaperman Who Dared Expose the Truth is exactly what the sub-title describes, the author does a fine job of putting the operation in historical perspective. As I’ve mentioned on other occasions, I was a pure science geek in college and only took the required history classes; American History was a junior-level course and I wasn’t about to tackle anything that complex while juggling science classes and I eagerly relish any opportunity to learn about our history especially as it relates to medicine.

The historical backdrop to the operation could have been ripped from today’s headlines: the next time the economy was this bad was the Great Depression (my impression was that it must have really sucked), they had their own dot-com bust in the guise of the railroad crises and there was struggle between those states who wanted the United States on a silver standard versus those who wanted a gold standard. Presiding over this mess was President Stephen Grover Cleveland, who so far, is the only president who served two non-consecutive terms but certainly not the last president to hide a medical condition from the public.

The book concentrated on three main areas: the medical, political and the newspaper reporter who attempted to uncover the “conspiracy.” It’s not that E. J. Edwards, the newspaper reporter who uncovered the truth (and the surrounding background of the newspaper industry of the time) wasn’t interesting, I just didn’t find it as compelling as the other two parts of the book. I found myself skimming most of the newspaper discussion though I did pay careful attention whenever the discussion of the operation and subsequent cover-up were mentioned.

I was reminded of the previous book I read about President James Garfield, Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard, only instead of an intrepid reporter, that book gave us a glimpse of a mad-man bent on killing an elected official. Unlike Candice Millard, Matthew Algeo had a firm grasp of the medical aspect of the book, which made this tome a slightly more satisfying read.

I can easily see myself re-reading this book, skipping over the politics and newspaper aspects, which while interesting, aren’t compelling enough for a second read. As a final thought, after being vilified for daring to suggest that the President lied to us (because, you know, Things Like This Weren’t Done), reporter E. J. Edwards lived long enough to be vindicated of any wrong-doing. I actually smiled when I read the chief surgeon WW Keen had detailed the operation in the September 22, 1917, edition of the Saturday Evening Post.

I gave this book 4/5 stars and I think that’s a fair assessment. It’s a good read especially if you are interested in an entertaining book about American History and it’s a pretty good read if you’re fascinated by Medical History. The highest praise I can give the author on this aspect is that I done a bit of outside reading and found that author Matthew Algeo had covered all the medical bases and did a pretty good job of it.

Now that the book review is over, time to discuss the e-book.

My last adventure with e-book reading didn’t end very well. The book The Woman Who Wanted to Die by Oxford Press – not some small crappy book publisher, but a major book publisher – was atrocious and I wrote the company. Customer Service sent back a canned answer that essentially said, “too bad, so sad.” Seriously?! I paid good freakin’ money and I expect, nay demand, that if I’m paying money for a book in a format that costs you way less than a physical copy, I don’t feel it’s too much to ask that it be formatted professionally.

I am happy to report that Chicago Review Press treats its e-book readers very well despite our perceived second class status in the book world. Well formatted, even had pictures that we obviously scaled down for the e-book. Kudos!

(Reviewed 27 October, 2013)

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