Sunday, May 22, 2011

The President Is a Sick Man by Matthew Algeo


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 is not nearly as florid and long winded as the title would have you believe.

It's the true story of the clandestine cancer surgery undertaken by President Grover Cleveland during his 2nd (non-consecutive) administration. It was a time of economic depression and turmoil, fueled largely by the divisive issue of whether to base American currency on gold or silver. Cleveland was entrusted with getting the country back on its feet, and in an era where cancer was seen as invariably fatal it would have been suicidal to his efforts to go public with the surgery.

Which is where the book slips the rails. As evidenced by the title, part of the narrative arc is showing the error and hypocricy of Cleveland's actions.But Cleveland was an unusually honsest politician. He did have legitimate and unselfish reasons to hide the surgery. Yes, one reporter paid the price for the lie, but even he was vindicated in time. All of this is stated and shown to be true in the text.

So, interesting tale, but . . . there is no villian to be found. Which is just as well. It's a swell read without that aspect, and Algeo does an exemplary job of bringing the issues of the past into sharp focus here in the present.

One major complaint - he uses quotes extensively, but provides no footnotes. That irks the history major in me, and I wish it could be corrected.

Finally: above all else the book proves yet again that there are no boring Presidents. Smart ones, brave ones, dishonest ones; but not a dull one in the deck.

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