- Paperback: 344 pages
- Publisher: Broadway Books; Reprint edition (January 13, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0307339890
- ISBN-13: 978-0307339898
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 144 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #336,291 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Charlatan: America's Most Dangerous Huckster, the Man Who Pursued Him, and the Age of Flimflam Paperback – January 13, 2009
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“Told with uproarious brio…heavenly…A book so lively that its wild stories are virtually wall to wall.”
—Janet Maslin, New York Times
“An extraordinary saga of the most dangerous quack of all time…A talented storyteller, [Brock] digs deep into the personal secrets of his characters…entrancing.”
“You will devour Charlatan, Pope Brock’s tale of fools and fanatics. With a vast and wild cast of characters, and filled with issues and topics that resonate through the years Charlatan begs comparison with Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City and deserves to be a best seller.”
“Written with glee, in a style that is pure gusto, a bubbling fountain of metaphor and arresting image…Fishbein's campaign against Brinkley makes up one strand of this extraordinary tale and provides it with a bravura courtroom finale.”
“Superbly crafted and enthralling...Brock’s droll style is perfect for this tale of trickery and credulity.”
“Hugely amusing [but also] dark and cautionary, a reminder of the high price of gullibility and ignorance.”
—Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post Book World
“A compelling slice of lurid Americana…fun to read.”
“Fascinating…Brock is gifted.”
“Pope Brock reaches into the past and captures an incredible story…perceptive.”
“An irresistible and wide-ranging slice of popular history.”
—The Seattle Times
“If Hollywood hasn't already optioned [this], what's keeping it?
—David Gates, Newsweek
“Wonderful…a gripping narrative”
“A rollicking biography–at turns funny and horrifying, brimming with wit, insight and who-knew facts.”
“Wonderful American social history and lots of fun.”
“In this lively and absorbing biography, Brock deftly captures the consummate snake-oil salesman and gifted entrepreneur John R. Brinkley…recommended.”
“Brinkley’s astonishing rise and fall story is told with wry good humor in Charlatan…compelling.”
—The Times (Acadiana, Louisiana)
"Brock exploits the outlandishness of Brinkley’s escapades to brilliant comic effect."
“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
“Take the Duke and the King in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Roll them into one. Hand this creature a scalpel, a radio microphone and the sweet-talking skills to get filthy rich hawking a deadly implantation of goat sexual organs to gullible American men– and women. Then set him about transforming American pop culture in the 1920s and 30s. You have John R. Brinkley, a con artist of leviathan proportions. Pope Brock's true-life account of this comic-evil monster is nothing less than Twainian: a blend of reportage, social history, portraiture and storytelling in the gland--excuse me, in the grand tradition."
—Ron Powers, author of Mark Twain: A Life
“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
“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
"Before ‘The Mythbusters’ put truth to the test on national television (usually by blowing things up), and before the Amazing Randi went on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson to expose charlatans and frauds in front of millions, there was Morris Fishbein, a quackbuster extraordinaire who relentlessly pursued the greatest charlatan of the 1920s and 1930s, one Dr. John Brinkley, huckster of quack cures and remedies, commercial hustler and schemer, and in the end a cold-hearted murderer. Pope Brock's gripping tale of fraud and flimflam is at once compelling and disturbing--compelling because it's such a great read, disturbing because it reveals the endless gullibility of human nature."
—Michael Shermer, Publisher of Skeptic magazine, monthly columnist for Scientific American, author of Why People Believe Weird Things, How We Believe, and Why Darwin Matters
“Charlatan is the fabulous tale of John R. Brinkley, notorious purveyor of goat-gland flimflam, and unsung pioneer who changed the face of American politics, mass media, popular taste, and–yes--medicine.”
—Joel Best, author of Flavor of the Month: Why Smart People Fall for Fads
"Charlatan is a serious work of history that reads like a novel. It tells the story of the little-known Dr. John Brinkley and his unquenchable thirst for fame and fortune. Along the way, however, it paints a refreshingly unique and vivid portrait of America as it struggled to maintain its Jacksonian faith in democracy at the same time that it looked to the magic of scientific experts to find new cures to old problems. Rarely has history been this fun, fast-paced, or fulfilling."
—Steven M. Gillon, author of Ten Days That Unexpectedly Changed America
“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
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
POPE BROCK has written for numerous publications, including Rolling Stone, Esquire, GQ, and the London Sunday Times Magazine. Brock is the author of the critically acclaimed Indiana Gothic, the story of his great-grandfather’s murder in 1908. He lives in upstate New York with his twin daughters, Molly and Hannah.
From the Hardcover edition.
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At one point, Brinkley controlled the largest and most powerful radio network in the entire world. You think you know about shysters and crooks? HA! I knew some of the background of other medical schemes, but reading this was a total revelation.
Strongly and happily recommended
So, yeah - the book is interesting and the five stars are well earned.
Of course, he also found a great subject to write about, which is half of the battle.
In the early 20th century, confidence man John Brinkley came up with his ultimate money-making scheme. He would use surgery and goat testicles to restore male virility. It makes most men cringe nowadays, but think about some of the odd things we still do to maintain our youth that involved surgery.
Brinkley also developed a sideline of selling potions and pills that turned out not to contain what they claimed to contain. This sort of thing was going on before Brinkley with snake oil salesmen and still continues today.
I found myself reading the book and thinking how could people fall for this, but then I thought about the modern equivalents and wondered how many times I’ve been taken in without knowing it.
Brinkley made a fortune off his quack theories and inspired a lot of copycat “doctors.” He also left behind dozens of dead and maimed people, all the while claiming success.
So, if Brinkley was the antagonist, the protagonist would be Morris Fishbein, the editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association. I’m not sure about other readers, but I just didn’t like Fishbein. I actually found myself hoping that he would fail in his efforts to destroy Brinkley. On the other hand, I found myself cheering for Brinkley at times because he wouldn’t be stopped. He kept reinventing himself to work around the restrictions that were thrown at him. I admired that even though I hated what he was doing.
I’ve seen a few movies and read some books lately where I didn’t like either the protagonist or antagonist. Who do you root for then?
Besides his gross medical malpractice, Brinkley also had an impact on politics, radio, and country music.
One reason why Brinkley was successful with his scams was because he was a master marketer. His initial marketing efforts dealt with newspaper advertising and direct mail. He recognized the marketing potential of the new media of the day, radio, and made the most of it.
When the government started to crack down on how the airwaves were used, Brinkley moved south of the border and opened a radio station in Mexico that eventually broadcast more than a million watts. Not only was this more powerful than his Oklahoma radio station had been, it was more powerful than all of the U.S. radio stations combined.
Besides pitches for his products and surgeries, Brinkley also presented entertainment. Many of the performers he chose went on to become pioneers in country music.
When Fishbein started to have an impact on Brinkley’s goat gland empire, he used his radio popularity to move into politics and very nearly became elected governor of Oklahoma as a third-party candidate.
I found Charlatan to be a fascinating story. I kept guessing at what Brinkley would do next to outwit Fishbein and his other detractors.
I wish people would educate themselves more about various 'medications' and proposed surgeries. I always do research on everything ahead of times...and it is never a good idea to be the first few people to try medicines or surgeries if you can avoid it. I teach pathophysiology in college, and I've learned that people are too gullible as far as doctors are concerned. They are not Gods, even if they have an MD. As a PhD who went through classes with the MDs, too many of them didn't understand the need for research, and their behavior with patients wasn't what I would have liked it!
Brinkley may have lost everything at the end, but he made a good life for himself and his family off of the money of others. I'm afraid I agree with Fishbein, Dr. Brinkley had absolutely no qualms about either his goat gland operations or killing people...not a shred of remorse or concern for others.
Book was very readable, and definitely a good addition to the history of medicine!
Read just the intro to the other book and decided "Charlatan" should be read first. Really glad I did.
Dr. Brinkley's actions seem unbelievable today, even as I wonder what medical treatments of today will be tomorrow's goat gland operation.
The best of the book is Brinkley's masterful use of all current "media" and new methods which he pioneered and perfected.
The author has a clear bias or better said, respect for his own theme, which colors the writing in a useful way. The reader can hold his own judgment even as Brock inserts his own feelings and aversion for quacks.
It is a must read for anyone in sales facing the temptation to tell folks what they want, rather than what's good for them or in this case the truth. The book is filled with interesting facts and real events. Like being led along a train wreck where the best or worst is still yet to come.