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Charlatan: America's Most Dangerous Huckster, the Man Who Pursued Him, and the Age of Flimflamby Pope Brock
Charlatan reads like a highly imaginative novel and is everything a work of popular history should be.
Synopses & Reviews
In 1917, after years of selling worthless patent remedies throughout the Southeast, John R. Brinkley — America's most brazen young con man — arrived in the tiny town of Milford, Kansas. He set up a medical practice and introduced an outlandish surgical method using goat glands to restore the fading virility of local farmers.
It was all nonsense, of course, but thousands of paying customers quickly turned "Dr." Brinkley into America's richest and most famous surgeon. His notoriety captured the attention of the great quackbuster Morris Fishbein, who vowed to put the country's "most daring and dangerous" charlatan out of business.
Their cat-and-mouse game lasted throughout the 1920s and '30s, but despite Fishbein's efforts Brinkley prospered wildly. When he ran for governor of Kansas, he invented campaigning techniques still used in modern politics. Thumbing his nose at American regulators, he built the world's most powerful radio transmitter just across the Rio Grande to offer sundry cures, and killed or maimed patients by the score, yet his warped genius produced innovations in broadcasting that endure to this day. By introducing country music and blues to the nation, Brinkley also became a seminal force in rock 'n' roll. In short, he is the most creative criminal this country has ever produced.
Culminating in a decisive courtroom confrontation that pit Brinkley against his nemesis Fishbein, Charlatan is a marvelous portrait of a boundlessly audacious rogue on the loose in an America that was ripe for the bamboozling.
"Told with uproarious brio...heavenly...A book so lively that its wild stories are virtually wall-to-wall." Janet Maslin, New York Times
"Wonderful American social history and lots of fun." Kirkus Reviews
"An incredible story...Brock lights a roman candle and the reader can't help but ooh and ahh." Neil Steinberg, Chicago Sun-Times
"You will devour Charlatan. With a vast and wild cast of characters, and filled with issues and topics that resonate through the years and are as close as the nearest computer, Charlatan...deserves to be a bestseller." Rick Kogan, Chicago Tribune
"An irresistible and wide-ranging slice of cultural history....Charlatan deftly weaves the stories of these two colorful figures...Fascinating." Seattle Times
"An entrancing book...Brock masterfully captures this amazing and amusing history." USA Today
"[This] stunning new nonfiction book chronicles, with a rollicking sense of fun mixed with outrage, the truly unbelievable career of Brinkley." Atlanta Journal-Constitution
"Brock captures the shamelessness and adaptability that make Brinkley fascinating." The New Yorker
"Superbly crafted and enthralling." Financial Times
"Brock exploits the outlandishness of Brinkley's escapades to brilliant comic effect." Washington CEO
"Charlatan is a fast, funny and fascinating read that begs to be made into a movie. It's an early contender for most entertaining non-fiction book of the year, and it's hard to imagine what book could come along to take away the prize." John Grooms, Creative Loafing
"A rollicking biography — at turns funny and horrifying, brimming with wit, insight and who-knew facts....Brock's prose is a joy to read, bold and colorful and a little irreverent....Charlatan reads like a novel — but no one could make this stuff up." The Wichita Eagle
"This spellbinding saga of a once-famous medical man who left all too many corpses in his wake is nothing short of spectacular. Impeccably researched, smartly crafted, beautifully written, it's a pure joy to read. And dealing, as it does, with eternal traits of human greed and gullibility, this extraordinary book is timely as well as timeless....A mesmerizing must-read, written by a writer of exquisite talent....One is left with the kind of reaction one has after reading a masterpiece." Heinz Kohler, Willard Long Thorp Professor of Economics, Emeritus Amherst College
"Come one, come all, to the fabulous, hilarious world of rheostatic dynamizers, foot-powered breast enlargers, and goat-gland transplants — the surreal province of one John Brinkley, diploma-mill quack and flimflammer extraordinaire. With perfect pitch story-telling and wonderfully stylish prose, Pope Brock gives us a portrait of a master fraud as Brinkley works the ballyhou-stoked pseudo-science of the Twenties and Thirties to take in millions, while dodging ex-patients, the law, and the AMA. A dazzling cast of walk-ons includes Sinclair Lewis, Eugene V. Debs, a hypochondriacal H. L Mencken, Mussolini, and Sigmund Freud, not to mention Nora, the Monkey Turned Woman. Stranger than fiction doesn't really say it. This is a book you won't put down and a story you'll never forget." James R. Gaines, author of For Liberty and Glory: Washington, LaFayette and Their Revolutions
"Shocking and hilarious in equal measure, this is an extraordinary story of greed, gullibility and goat-glands. In chronicling the outrageous career of John R. Brinkley, king of the quack doctors, Pope Brock has also written a cautionary tale for our own times — about celebrity, mass-marketing, media power, political huckstering and the dangerous allure of mumbo-jumbo. As irresistible as Brinkley's snake-oil, and far more invigorating, Charlatan is an instant classic." Francis Wheen, author of How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World and The Irresistable Con: The Bizarre Life of a Fraudulent Genius
"A fascinating look at one of America's most dangerous quacks and the advertising and political maneuvering that sustained him. Must reading for everyone who wants to understand the dark side of the marketplace and the vulnerability of its victims." Stephen Barrett, M.D., Head, Quackwatch.org, author of The Health Robbers
"Astonishing....This masterfully told story of the world's most dangerous quack and the medical sleuth who tracked him down is a delight. Brock skilfully mines the narrow fissure between cutting-edge medicine and outrageous quackery while plumbing the depths of human credulity. His punchy, exuberant style is spot-on perfect for this improbable tale of money, murder and menace." Wendy Moore, author of The Knife Man: Blood, Body-Snatching and the Birth of Modern Surgery
Book News Annotation:
John R. Brinkley's "cure" for impotence killed several men, cut down on the goat population and made him immensely rich. He also was the first to use clear channel radio to advertise and carried that style into a failed run for governor of Kansas. Brock, a journalist, tells the story of Brinkley, his rise and fall. This is also the history of the efforts of Dr. Morris Fishbein, of the newly-founded American Medical Association, to stop Brinkley and the proliferation of quack medical practitioners. This book is intended for a general (rather than academic) audience. Annotation ©2008 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
About the Author
Pope Brock is the author of the critically acclaimed Indiana Gothic, the story of his great-grandfather's murder in 1908. Brock has written for numerous publications, including Rolling Stone, Esquire, GQ, and the London Sunday Times Magazine. He lives in upstate New York with his twin daughters, Molly and Hannah.
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