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Review: Story of president's secret surgery at sea

The Associated Press, Monday, May 2, 2011, 4:30am (PDT)

"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," (Chicago Review Press), by Matthew Algeo. Author Matthew Algeo takes a little known part of presidential history and creates a page-turning ride in "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."

At the beginning of his second nonconsecutive term as president, Grover Cleveland discovered a horrible growth on the roof of his mouth. At a time when cancer made the victim a pariah and doctors knew nothing about the medical science behind the dreaded disease, Cleveland decided to have it secretly removed.

On July 1, 1893, Cleveland went on what was described as a fishing trip. A team of doctors boarded the yacht and removed the cancerous tumor from his mouth — along with most of his upper jaw. They reconstructed his face as best they could. A few days later, Cleveland began making public appearances, but not speaking.

A reporter named E.J. Edwards discovered the truth and wrote a major story about what had happened. Cleveland denied it. Edwards found himself vilified and lost all of his credibility.

The truth didn't come out for 24 years.

Algeo has created a thrilling account of a president who prided himself on being truthful and the destruction of a reporter's reputation just to keep the operation hidden. He also explores medical science and life for the average person less than 20 years after the end of the Civil War.

The author pushes readers to question the moral dilemma of keeping secrets — and whether there are valid reasons for maintaining the facade.

———

Jeff Ayers is the author of "Voyages of Imagination: The Star Trek Fiction Companion" (Pocket Books, 2006).

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