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)
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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.