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Book Review  |   July 2014
The Abraham Man: Madness, Malingering, and the Development of Medical Testimony
Author Affiliations
  • Gilbert E. D'Alonzo, Jr, DO
    Editor in Chief Emeritus, The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association; Temple University School of Medicine, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Article Information
Book Review   |   July 2014
The Abraham Man: Madness, Malingering, and the Development of Medical Testimony
The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, July 2014, Vol. 114, 594. doi:
The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, July 2014, Vol. 114, 594. doi:
I read The Abraham Man slowly. I took my time because each page was carefully constructed and loaded with information. Each of the 9 chapters is long but designed to maintain attention, beautifully weaving case histories together to move the story forward. It wasn't long before I was hooked. 
What is “the Abraham Man”? I had never heard that term before. Well, now I know: During the US Civil War, some men would fain illness or malady to avoid combat, and these men came to be known as the Abraham men. Military surgeons would try their best to distinguish between soldiers with real illnesses and those skilled actors who purported to have such maladies. From this process, the profession of psychiatry—and the development of medical testimony—evolved. 
R. Gregory Lande, DO, methodically tells this story using fascinating cases as his narrative tool. I was particularly immersed in the Vanderbilt will case, in which the death of Cornelius Vanderbilt, with an estate worth $100 million left primarily to a single son, led many of Vanderbilt's kin to contest the will, claiming that the deceased was incompetent from mental illness. The story of the assassination of President James A. Garfield was also fascinating, discussing both lunacy and competency. 
Dr Lande has made an important contribution to US literature. Between the history of medicine, the history of legal medicine and litigation, and innumerable stories of supposed and perhaps legitimate mental illness, many of which were accompanied by incredible drama, The Abraham Man has it all. I recommend this historically valuable book without hesitation.