Patrick Sprunger's Reviews > 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 by Matthew Algeo
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's review
Aug 28, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: general-nonfiction, read-in-2011

The President is a Sick Man is the perfect beach read. The subject is a perfect balance of quirk, period, and philosophy (quirky because an obscure 19th century president had a secret surgery on a boat, a period piece because the gilded age is full of color, and philosophical because questions about the public's right to know what's going on with their president and the White House's relationship with the press have tremendous possible implications beyond the triviality of a single episode). It's been a long time since I read a book in a single day.

The other elusive balance Matthew Algeo managed to strike is the one between general nonfiction and historical scholarship. Algeo breezes over serious, divisive historical issues (bi-metallism, labor issues) without misstating anything in the process. Though the author doesn't explain the full implication of the gold standard versus bimetallism, he also doesn't make any incorrect generalizations. He also manages to comment on the period without apparent partisanship (though it's notoriously hard to definitively say who most resembles the contemporary Democratic and Republican parties in the 1890s). In short, despite a brisk and breezy tempo, there are no casualties in Algeo's narrative.

The reader doesn't walk away from The President is a Sick Man with a changed mind about anything. But it isn't a complete waste of time. Very gently, Matthew Algeo encourages his readers to ask themselves questions about American politics, journalism, and (to a lesser degree) the benefit of living in an era of reliable medicine. That gentleness and tempo make The President is a Sick Man one of the most overwhelmingly enjoyable books I've read in months.

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