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This catalogue of presidential illnesses has a certain appeal as pop history, given a large tolerance for pontification and historical generalization. Physician Moses and editor Cross begin with Grover Cleveland's operation for cancer of the jaw--performed aboard a yacht to insure secrecy, and so radical he was unable to talk without a prosthetic device--assuring us that Presidents are more subject to ""disease, dementia, and disability. . . than almost any other professional body"" (no corroborative evidence provided). Then they switch back to Washington, whose ten major illnesses (including TB and smallpox) probably did not lessen his achievements--as proven, the authors claim, by the fact that Madison, Monroe, and John Quincy Adams were much healthier but ""far below him in stature."" Jackson was so illness-ridden he wouldn't have qualified for a modern insurance policy; Lincoln's aortic insufficiency would have killed him imminently had he not been shot; Franklin Pierce was a drunk; Warren Harding suffered from satyriasis; and Millard Fillmore probably was our healthiest President. The problems of Wilson, FDR, Eisenhower, and JFK are familiar (except for charges that FDR's military physician overlooked his heart problems); and the Garfield and McKinley assassination-aftermaths bring up the equally familiar issue of presidential disability. The authors, blessedly, choose to ignore the last four Presidents except to praise Nixon's courage for going to China despite phlebitis (possibly stress-related, suggests Jaffe, above). For trivia collectors and medical freaks--whose members may be legion.

Pub Date: March 24th, 1980
Publisher: Norton