Eisenhower's Heart Attack

How Ike Beat Heart Disease and Held on to the Presidency

Clarence G. Lasby

When delegates to the 1956 Republican Convention sang "Ike for four more years," they were celebrating the President's health as much as his political agenda. Dwight Eisenhower had suffered a heart attack less than a year before, and his decision to seek a second term symbolized for many Americans Ike's victory over a nearly fatal illness. This, it seems, was the intended effect.

Previous Eisenhower biographers have touched on his heart condition, but Clarence Lasby is the first to examine the impact of the president's health on the nation. He offers a dramatic revisionist account of the events surrounding the 1955 heart attack and subsequent efforts by the president and his staff to minimize its political impact.

“Lasby’s sure-handed prose style, his organization of a vast amount of material, his understanding of coronary artery disease and its history, and his sensitivity to the drama of the events he describes make history come alive in this highly readable book.

—New England Journal of Medicine

“This is a valuable book. It is readable, its source materials are impressive, and the glimpse it provides of Eisenhower is absorbing.

See all reviews...

Drawing on newly-opened medical records and personal papers of Eisenhower's physicians, Lasby challenges virtually everything we have believed about the president's heart attack. Most disturbingly, he has discovered that the president's personal physician, Dr. Howard Snyder, misdiagnosed the attack as a gastrointestinal problem and waited ten hours before sending Eisenhower to the hospital.

Lasby also sets the record straight on how the president and his aides "managed" the public's understanding of events, and he offers evidence that Eisenhower, Dr. Snyder, and press secretary James Hagerty withheld and recast information to serve the president's political priorities.

Equally important, Lasby's book offers a touching portrait of a proud man faced with a debilitating disease. It examines Ike's private struggle to lead a full life despite his condition and analyzes his decision to seek a second term even against the advice of cardiologist Paul Dudley White. It also shows how a man who had always carefully looked after his health now became obsessed with it.

Eisenhower's Heart Attack is both a remarkable medical case history and an incisive character study of a strong-willed leader. It further illuminates one of our nation's most popular presidents, as it recharges the debate over the relationship between politics and presidential health—and between national security and the public's right to know.

About the Author

Clarence Lasby brings a very personal perspective to this study. He has been a heart patient for twenty years and the recipient of two coronary bypass surgeries. He is professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin and the author of Project Paperclip: German Scientists and the Cold War, which was nominated for the National Book Award. He is currently working on a history of heart disease in modern America.