Who’s Really in Charge?

When Illness Strikes the Leader: The Dilemma of the Captive KingWhen Illness Strikes the Leader: The Dilemma of the Captive King
by Professor Robert S. Robins and Dr. Jerrold Post M.D.

Who’s Really in Charge?

You can consider this a companion piece to the previously reviewed book, When Illness Goes Public: Celebrity Patients and How We Look at Medicine by Barron F Lerner. While that book viewed the public and private battles of well-known people, When Illness Strikes the Leader: The Dilemma of the Captive King takes a historical look at the how being a world leader doesn’t necessarily bring the best medical care. In fact, it can be a hazard to your health.

Why? Simple. Your health is not your own. Your health doesn’t just affect your friends and family but of your country and the course of history. While other books have concentrated on either the historical perspective or the health/medical perspective, this book has the unique combination of both a historian and medical doctor who give a complete analysis of both the political and medical aspects of how a leader’s illness and its consequences.

I had the fortune of reading this book when one of the major plot points of the TV show The West Wing pivoted upon keeping the public unaware of the United States’ President’s multiple sclerosis diagnosis. The politicians kept the secret while the doctor (his wife) wanted the best care for her husband. It’s an interesting dilemma where the treatment rests not on whether or not the patient can afford it but whether or not the nation in question can “afford” it. In most all instances, what the patient needed was secondary to what the nation needed.

Of course, there are instances where the leader’s impairment was obvious but because of how he held the power, nothing could be done about it. A very scary situation when you think about how many countries have weapons of mass destruction and the leader in question isn’t working on all cylinders.

I remember really enjoying this book the first time I read and it the second time was no different. This isn’t necessarily an “easy” book to read but this is a book that both world historians and medical historians will find utterly fascinating.

I initially gave this book 5 stars and my opinion hasn’t changed. Well recommended.

(Review first published 22 June 2014)

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