Then and Now: Illness

Then and Now: Illness


In this week’s cover story, contributor Jay Cost ably recounts the health scares and illnesses that have befallen a number of presidents, going back as far as George Washington himself. The health of a national executive is a matter of great import, and outside of four presidential assassinations, it’s fair to say that the United States has been relatively lucky in this regard. Presidents have survived bouts of violent illness, gunshot wounds, and chronic pain. And that’s just Andrew Jackson.

Others throughout history have not been as lucky. The Book of Daniel describes the descent of Nebuchadnezzar II, the ruler of the Babylonian Empire heralded as “King of the Universe,” into a psychological madness where he “was driven from men and did eat grass as oxen.” The Bible records that Nebuchadnezzar was humbled by God for his hubris and lived like an animal for seven years. Psychology calls such a disorder “boanthropy,” in which a person believes

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