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Charlatan: America's Most Dangerous Huckster, the Man Who Pursued Him, and the Age of Flimflam [Kindle Edition]

Pope Brock
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (85 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $16.00
Kindle Price: $9.99
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Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

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.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

John Brinkley, who grew up poor in rural North Carolina but attended Rush Medical College in Chicago, got his start touring as a medicine man hawking miracle tonics and became famous for transplanting goat testicles into impotent men. Brinkley built his own radio station in 1923, hustling his pseudoscience over the airwaves and giving an outlet to astrologers and country music. His nemesis was Dr. Morris Fishbein, the buoyant, compulsively curious editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association whose luminary friends included Sinclair Lewis, Clarence Darrow and H.L. Mencken. Fishbein took aim at Brinkley in JAMA, lay publications and pamphlets distributed by the thousands. Even after the Kansas State Medical Board yanked his medical license in 1930, Brinkley ran twice for governor of Kansas and almost won. Finally, Brinkley sued Fishbein for libel and lost in a spectacular showdown. Brock (Indiana Gothic) did tremendous research on this rollicking story, but the result is at times unfocused, overwritten and digressive, borrowing just a little too much from the overblown rhetoric of its subject. 8 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. (Feb. 5)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Reviewers across the board bought what Pope Brock is selling. The author reeled them in with the incredible Brinkley, a quack who was one of a kind yet revealed so much about the era in which he lived. Critics were mesmerized by Brock’s ability to connect Brinkley’s life to other episodes in American history and fill them with vitality. Yet the true potency of Charlatan derives from Brock’s storytelling skill: many critics spent much of their reviews retelling the highly entertaining tales from the book. Like the work to which it was most often compared, Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City (**1/2 May/June 2003), Charlatan will surely prove to be popular with those who love American history as well as with those simply in search of a good yarn.
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.

Product Details

  • File Size: 748 KB
  • Print Length: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; 1 edition (February 5, 2008)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0013SSPVE
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #199,799 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
65 of 66 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars the huckster and the hellhound February 9, 2008
Charlatan is a thoroughly enjoyable (and pertinent even today!) tale of medical quackery a man who spent years battling against the country's leading quack. The self-style "Doctor" Brinkley had no formal medical training and purchased his degrees. He started selling patent medicine for sexual problems (and other ailments) but soon found his niche. About 1919 he began transplanting goat testicles in men: $750 a pop. That's $750 back then, and no credit given. But you did get to visit the goat pen behind the clinic in Kansas to pick out a young billygoat of your choice.

By today's standards, the operations were eye-popping in terms of the lack of attention to asepsis/antisepsis. Gangrene and lockjaw were among the perils one too often faced. Brinkley got very rich, and very famous: he twice ran for governor of Kansas and was narrowly defeated both times. When the Kansas Medical Board came down hard on him (at last), Brinkley moved to Del Rio, Texas, and set up the most powerful radio station in the world just across the border. This staion was used to broadcast the program Medical Question Box which would answer questions for a fee and which promoted quack medicine available through mail order. Pulling in a million dollars a year (in 1930s dollars, not 2008 dollars) was no mean feat.

Nemesis, in the form of Dr Morris Fishbein, finally proved to be Brinkley's undoing. Fishbein spent his life fighting and exposing medical quackery, and regularly wrote articles for the JAMA. It took Fishbein 10 years to bring down Brinkley: the climax of the book is a magnificently described court case where Brinkley was a disaster on the stand.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Quirky quackery February 5, 2008
I couldn't put this book down, and couldn't stop from telling other people about it.

I don't want to give away too many details, but it was amazing, fun, and yet sad, to learn that an American in the 20th century could earn millions, win popular acclaim, hobnob with the rich and famous, and nearly win election as a governor - all because people believed that, er, goat glands could bring them renewed life and, er, virility.

There are many other odd twists to the story, from popular music to media history to the rise of the American Medical Association.

It's an oddball slice of history told with the wry wit the story deserves.

This book will rejuvenate your reading.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Hilarious and Scary Goat Gland Hoax February 19, 2008
Everybody knows Viagra nowadays, and what it treats. Eighty years ago, everyone knew of the "goat gland" treatment, which not only treated what Viagra treats, but also brought a general rejuvenation to men, eliminated flab, advanced previously receding hairlines, and provided other miraculous cures. Provided cures, that is, to the gullible. The goat gland treatment never worked, despite its fame, and unlike the talismans that men have used for millennia to restore vigor, it had serious, sometimes lethal side effects. That little drawback did not impair the career of Doctor (perhaps that should be "Doctor") John R. Brinkley, one of the most famous of names in America in the 1930s. His astonishing rise and fall story is told with wry good humor in _Charlatan: America's Most Dangerous Huckster, the Man Who Pursued Him, and the Age of Flimflam_ (Crown Publishers) by Pope Brock. Brinkley is gone, and Brock does not harp on lessons we might learn from his enterprise, but it is clear that although we don't do goat glands anymore, the golden age for medical hucksterism has never entered its twilight.

Brinkley was a farm boy who fiddled with "electric medicine" and injecting colored water into the buttocks of patients, which got him jailed in South Carolina in 1913 for practicing without a license. Once sprung, he headed to Chicago, and in 1915 he paid $150 for a degree from the Eclectic Medical University of Kansas City, and he was in business. He set up a clinic in Milford, Kansas, and began implanting goat testicles into men who had lost their pep. He became a pioneer in radio advertising, and also in broadcasting country music.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An enlightening, disturbing and thoroughly enjoyable romp February 25, 2008
The first group elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame might never have made it out of the backwoods had it not been for a serial killer.

If you find that statement intriguing, get ready for an enlightening, disturbing and thoroughly enjoyable romp through the Land of Flimflam, emceed by writer Pope Brock, author of INDIANA GOTHIC. In CHARLATAN he forensically disinters the remains of a portion of America's past that we might wish to disavow --- the heyday of the quack.

Arguably, it is a phenomenon that has never completely faded, because as long as there are gullible people there will be medical quackery, no matter how cleverly disguised as --- and these are Brock's designations --- "bogus cancer and weight-loss treatments, biological dentistry, ear candling (putting a candle in your ear), Wild Yam Cream, chelation therapy" etc. But in the early part of the 20th century, shameless shamanism reached its zenith in the nefarious person of mad genius John R. Brinkley, generally known as "Doctor" Brinkley --- though no one ever had less right to that title.

Brinkley was a product of the hardscrabble hills of North Carolina who got his start selling "patent remedies" but soon graduated to far more sophisticated forms of chicanery, in the grip of a brilliant entrepreneurial mentality gone horribly askew. He became known as "the goat gland doctor" after he and his wife Minnie developed a "technique" for grafting animal testicles onto human ones. Every time he had to demonstrate or defend this notorious surgery for conventional medical people, he lost his license to practice medicine.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The man was bizarre, but amazingly influential
I bought a very low cost remaindered copy thinking that it would be an amusing lurid story worth reading a little of. Read more
Published 25 days ago by Robert L Cromwell
5.0 out of 5 stars extremely interesting
It held my interest from the beginning. informative, surprising, just loved everything about it.

The fact that it was a true story made it even more interesting, and a... Read more
Published 26 days ago by Caroline
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating
This was an interesting account of a time when our health was protected by the slimmest of warning labels: buyer beware. Read more
Published 2 months ago by M. McCrady
4.0 out of 5 stars Oh the Mind of Man
This book deals with a few con artists , one in particular, and the lengths they go to to dupe people with outrageous claims of medical cures. Read more
Published 4 months ago by timothy sho donahue
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book that reminds us once again, truth is stranger than fiction.
The true story of John Brinkley, who in the early 1920’s, used pseudo-science, worthless potions and transplantation of goat testicles ostensibly to restore virility in impotent... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Andrew D. Rudin
4.0 out of 5 stars What men will do for better sex.
The story of the man who talked hundreds of American men to have their testicles replaced with goat testicles. Hard to believe, but true.
Published 7 months ago by JerryCPP
5.0 out of 5 stars Human foible disarmingly (errrr...disTesticularly) revealed
First a disclosure: I have had the pleasure of meeting Pope Brock and his daughters, each multi-talented and serious about their art. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Dawna Robertson
4.0 out of 5 stars Strange and interesting story
This covers an unusual and rather scary scam that was perpetuated for a long time. The book could have been shorter and had the same impact.
Published 9 months ago by Lynne M. Nickle
5.0 out of 5 stars Pope Brock brings it in a big way!
Living in NW Arkansas, not far from several of the locations discussed in this prolific work,
I thoroughly enjoyed how Pope Brock artistically brought to life many of the... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Dougie
4.0 out of 5 stars Historical education and entertainment too
The story of J. R. Brinkley is particularly important in an age where critical literacy is hard to find. Read more
Published 9 months ago by A student of History
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