Did Abraham Lincoln have Marfan syndrome? Cancer? Syphilis?

New book looks at Lincoln’s possible medical conditions

Also in the book Schroeder-Lein surveys the medical issues of Lincoln’s wife and sons, especially the hot topic of Mary Lincoln’s insanity (which the Schroder-Lein thinks an exaggerated diagnosis of mental troubles), and the deaths and illnesses of Willie, Tad and Robert Lincoln both during and after the Civil War.

To all of these, and other, diagnoses of Lincoln (and his family) in the book, Schroeder-Lein does an excellent job explaining the disease, offering the opinions postulated both for and against the disease, and suggesting her own possible explanation without being dogmatic in her assertions. Such an even-handed examination makes Lincoln and Medicine an exemplary offering to Lincoln studies, especially as a primer for those who know little or nothing about the subject of the family’s medical history.

The succinctness of the book — 89 pages of text, but a total 128 pages including notes, bibliography and index — adds to the value of its historical contribution in that it relates the facts and theories and offers a general survey of the issue without overstating, overstepping or getting verbose. Readers who become interested in a certain topic can use the book as a resource to find the referenced books for further reading.

After more than 200 years since Lincoln’s birth, every aspect of his life continues to be dissected — including his medical life. “As this study shows, it can be extremely difficult to properly diagnose the physical problems that afflicted Lincoln and his family. The remaining evidence is almost always too fragmentary to provide a conclusive answer. Nevertheless, enough information survives to test theories, narrow options and suggest logical conclusions,” Schroeder-Lein concludes.

Jason Emerson is the author of numerous books and articles on Abraham Lincoln and his family, and is editor of the Skaneateles Press. He can be reached at editor@skaneatelespress.com.

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