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Seriously, Read a Book!

Thoughts on books, often interpreted through the high-brow prism of cartoon (read: Archer) references. Wait! I had something for this...

Currently reading

The Sketchnote Handbook: The Illustrated Guide to Visual Notetaking
Mike Rohde
The Antidote
Oliver Burkeman
The Kind Worth Killing
Peter Swanson
Data Points: Visualization That Means Something
Nathan Yau
James Buchanan
Jean H. Baker, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.

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

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 - Matthew Algeo

19th century presidents, they're just like us! Ok, so maybe that's not exactly true, but The President Is a Sick Man tells a story of aggressive "journalists" (who, if it weren't for the whole needing subjects to sit still for minutes on end, would definitely have been paparazzi), celebrities avoiding the limelight, financial crises, media coverups and pretty much the gamut of affairs that, today, are covered in US Weekly and Politico.

Author Matthew Algeo may have been overstating his case when he referred to it as a “brazen political cover-up that was as diabolical as—and infinitely more successful than—Watergate.” Nonetheless, a secret surgery done on the head of state on a boat no less, definitely makes for an interesting tale. Algeo spices it up with elements of the history of journalism and paper wars, modern takes on olden-timey medicine, tidbits of trivia (e.g. trends in facial hair in the oval office), and “The rumor mill—one of the few thriving industries left in the country—[which] resumed full-scale production.”

Points of interest and such:
I could care less about age gaps in relationships between consenting adults. However, Cleveland and Frances’ history together made theirs a union that was uniquely creepy (well, maybe not uniquely- shoutout to Woody Allen and Soon Yi). I’ll elaborate:
1. When Cleveland’s BFF, Folsom’s, wife gave birth to their first daughter “Cleveland...bought her a baby carriage and doted on her as if she were his own.”
2. When Folsom met his early demise, “Cleveland was named the executor of Folsom’s estate, and he came to feel a special obligation to Folsom’s widow and her eleven-year-old daughter Frances.”
3. He had practically been her guardian after her father was killed in a carriage accident. He had bought her a puppy when she was a little girl, and she’d called him Uncle Cleve.
4. Here’s the real kicker. When encouraged by his family to settle-down around this same time “He told his sisters, rather cryptically, ‘I’m only waiting for my wife to grow up.’”

The parts of the book focusing on the history of medicine and to the social stigma surrounding cancer (aka “the dread disease”) were fascinating for this science studies aficionado.

Much like AIDS a century later, the stigma attached to cancer was so deep and profound that people who had it were embarrassed or afraid to admit it.


While it was uncouth to discuss the big C in polite company, this didn’t stop people from profiteering with purported remedies.

Folk remedies abounded as well. One called for the hand of a dead man to be placed on the tumor. Another prescribed the head of a puppy, dried and powdered and mixed with honey, to be applied to the growth.



Given his invocation of the social stigma parallels between AIDS in the 80’s and early 90’s and cancer in Cleveland’s era, I found it difficult to see the cover up as being as dastardly as Algeo portrayed it. (Has he seen Philadelphia?)

The financial climate (which was pretty dire) made the potential consequences of public panic very real:

Cleveland was not being vain. It was widely believed that his health and the nation’s health were inextricably linked.


Thus, I was disinclined to jump on Algeo’s journalists rule, politicians drool bandwagon.

Archer reference, because I just can’t help myself:
"Grover Cleveland called. He wants his watch back. He left two non-consecutive messages."