Dying President: Franklin D. Roosevelt 1944-1945

Overview

In this authoritative account, Robert H. Ferrell shows how the treatment of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's illness in 1944- 1945 was managed by none other than the president himself. Although this powerful American president knew that he suffered from cardiovascular disease, he went to great lengths to hide that fact—both from his physician and from the public. Why Roosevelt disguised the nature of his illness may be impossible to discern fully. He was a secretive man who liked to assign only parts of tasks to...

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Overview

In this authoritative account, Robert H. Ferrell shows how the treatment of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's illness in 1944- 1945 was managed by none other than the president himself. Although this powerful American president knew that he suffered from cardiovascular disease, he went to great lengths to hide that fact—both from his physician and from the public. Why Roosevelt disguised the nature of his illness may be impossible to discern fully. He was a secretive man who liked to assign only parts of tasks to his assistants so that he, the president, would be the only one who knew the whole story. The presidency was his life, and he did not wish to give it up.

The president's duplicity, though not easily measurable, had a critical effect on his performance. Placed on a four-hour-a-day schedule by his physicians, Roosevelt could apply very little time to his presidential duties. He took long vacations in South Carolina, Warm Springs, the Catoctin Mountains, and Hyde Park, as well as lengthy journeys to Hawaii, Canada, and Yalta. Important decisions were delayed or poorly made. America's policy toward Germany was temporarily abandoned in favor of the so-called Morgenthau Plan, which proposed the "pastoralization" of Germany, turning the industrial heart of Europe into farmland. Roosevelt nearly ruined the choice of Senator Harry S. Truman as his running mate in 1944 by wavering in the days prior to the party's national convention. He negotiated an agreement with Winston Churchill on sharing postwar development of nuclear weapons but failed to let the State Department know. And, in perhaps the most profoundly unwise decision, Roosevelt accepted a fourth term when he could not possibly survive it.

In his final year, a year in which he faced crucial responsibility regarding World War II and American foreign policy, Franklin D. Roosevelt failed to serve the nation as a healthy president would have. Reading like a mystery story, The Dying President clears up many of the myths and misunderstandings that have surrounded Roosevelt's last year, finally revealing the truth about this missing chapter in FDR's life.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"The Dying President is the most significant study of Roosevelt's last year. No future biography of FDR or any work that deals with his wartime actions and policies could now be written without reference to this comprehensive study."—Amos Perlmutter

Journal of the American Medical Association
As mystery and history, steeped in medicine, this is a book to sit down with.
Library Journal
Presidential historian Ferrell (emeritus, Indiana Univ.; Choosing Truman, LJ 3/15/94) has written a concise account of the last year of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's life. Many historians have speculated about the cause of Roosevelt's death, and rumors have persisted for years that he died of a brain tumor or cancer. Using the latest evidence, Ferrell concludes that Roosevelt died of a cardiovascular disease. He not only explores the theories surrounding FDR's death but posits that FDR knew how serious his health problems were, and he also considers whether the president's illness affected the decisions he made. In this excellent treatment of Roosevelt's last year, Ferrell is able to convey complex situations in easily understood terms. Unlike his book on Harding (The Strange Death of President Harding, Univ. of Missouri, 1997), which left a number of questions unanswered, this work should end some of the controversy surrounding Roosevelt's death.Richard P. Hedlund, Ashland Community Coll., Ashland, KY
Kirkus Reviews
A brief study of the medical and political coverups that prevented the American people from learning that in 1944 they had reelected a president who was dying, from the prolific writer/editor who has created something of a sub-genre of history—sick presidents (Ill Advised: Presidential Health and Public Trust, 1992, etc.). Ferrell leaves little doubt that by early 1944 Roosevelt was indeed dying. Examined by a leading heart specialist of the time, Dr. Howard G. Bruenn, on March 28, 1944, the president was diagnosed as having severe heart disease. Ferrell questions why such a serious condition wasn't detected earlier and places the blame clearly on the president's primary physician, Vice Adm. Ross McIntire, surgeon general of the US Navy. McIntire, a political appointee, was quite simply an incompetent doctor who over the years examined the president in only the most cursory ways. Still, the president was not the best of patients. He seemed to believe he could will away his maladies and didn't want to know the true condition of his health. FDR or his press secretary, Steve Early, even had J. Edgar Hoover send agents to Bethesda Naval Hospital to quash gossip among the doctors there as to the state of the president's health. Roosevelt, in his last year, worked four hours a day at most, at a time when WW II was approaching its final stages. Ferrell contends that if Roosevelt had been working at full capacity, the course of the war in the Pacific might have been quite different, China might not have become Communist, the Korean War might not have happened, and Nixon might not have resigned. This pushes historical speculation too far and contrasts poorly with the carefullyresearched narrative of FDR's last days, which is the bulk of the book. Though slight, this volume, based on much previously unavailable documentation, does provide an intimate glimpse of the last days of one of America's greatest presidents. (45 illustrations, not seen)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780826211712
  • Publisher: University of Missouri Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/1998
  • Pages: 185
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert H. Ferrell is Professor Emeritus of History at Indiana University in Bloomington. He is the author or editor of numerous books, including Collapse at Meuse-Argonne: The Failure of the Missouri-Kansas Division and Meuse-Argonne Diary: A Divison Commander in World War I, both available from the University of Missouri Press. Ferrell resides in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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