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November 24, 1993

The Mortal Presidency: Illness and Anguish in the White House

Author Affiliations

Northwestern University Medical School Chicago, Ill


by Robert E. Gilbert, 314 pp, with illus, $25, ISBN 0-465-03208-7, New York, NY, Basic Books Inc, 1992.

JAMA. 1993;270(20):2497. doi:10.1001/jama.1993.03510200103042

Gilbert, a professor of political science, examines the effects of physical and psychological illnesses on Calvin Coolidge, Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan. The sections on Coolidge, Eisenhower, and Reagan are the most interesting, since FDR and JFK have been much more thoroughly worked over in the literature.

Coolidge, despite the general view that he was a lackadaisical and weak president, did well in his first year after Harding's death on August 2,1923. Gilbert shows that Coolidge put in full and active days in his office. He worked well with Congress and achieved much improved relations with Mexico. However, shortly after the Republicans nominated Coolidge for the presidency in June 1924, 16-year-old Calvin Junior acquired a blister on his foot that became infected and died a week later. President Coolidge never completely recovered.

Beginning with the fact that Coolidge did not pay the undertaker's bill for three