ROBERT H. FERRELL, The Dying President: Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1944-1945 (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1998), 185 pp., $24.95 cloth (ISBN 0-8262-1171-2).
This short but satisfying study reviews, updates, and adds to our knowledge of the tragic medical history of Franklin D. Roosevelt both before and during his final year or so as president. With his previous studies of Harry Truman and Roosevelt, Robert Ferrell is exceptionally well qualified to work in presidential history. And he has placed his account of Roosevelt's illness in a rich, insightful, and informed context of the political, diplomatic, and other events or demands of Roosevelt's presidency.
The meat of the present work is its analysis of the alarming wartime decline in the president's physical capacity to cope with the demands of his office. The root causes of this decline were, for a considerable time, anything but clear to those around Roosevelt. Thus, one of Ferrell's purposes, and his most original contribution, is to reconstruct the lamentable story of the gross shortcomings of the president's medical care. Another aim is to unearth details of "how carefully [Roosevelt's cardiovascular disease] was kept from the American people" once that condition, by far the most serious of his post-polio illnesses, had been diagnosed in March 1944 (p. 1). A collateral objective is to supplement and correct prior accounts of the subject by tapping newly available diaries and other relevant material.
The study is a timely one, a work that effectively plays up to the American public's "recent sensitivity to illnesses of the nation's chief executives" (p. 2). As one might expect, the author draws attention to some of the potentially far-reaching "what-ifs" of this incapacitating medical situation. For example, what if Roosevelt had listened to his physicians when he was considering running for a fourth term of office? Or, what if he had been in good health when the 1944 Quebec conference was considering options for post-World War II Europe? But Ferrell resists the temptation to overdo such speculations. Actually, he is impressively factual in examining the impact of illness on Roosevelt's official functioning, a trait that gives a strong...