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Charlatan: America's Most Dangerous…

Charlatan: America's Most Dangerous Huckster, the Man Who Pursued… (original 2008; edition 2008)

by Pope Brock

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3842228,030 (3.8)30
Title:Charlatan: America's Most Dangerous Huckster, the Man Who Pursued Him, and the Age of Flimflam
Authors:Pope Brock
Info:Crown (2008), Edition: 1, Hardcover, 336 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:junk store, history, U.S. history, true crime, storage

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Charlatan : America's most dangerous huckster, the man who pursued him, and the age of flimflam by Pope Brock (2008)

  1. 00
    Catch Me if You Can by Frank W. Abagnale (BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: Readers who enjoy dramatic tales of swindlers chased by the FBI may like both Charlatan and Catch Me If You Can, which chronicle the lives of men who successfully deceived everyone around them for years, amassing fortunes along the way.… (more)

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Interesting story of a historical account of the life of a quack. I found that at times you felt sympathy for this dangerous crook. I recommend the book freely as the story would be of general interest. It also provides some insight into the variable quality of medicine at the time. ( )
  GlennBell | Sep 13, 2014 |
"Dr Brinkley is the foremost money-making surgeon in the world, because he had sense enough to know the weaknesses of human nature and gall enough to make a million dollars a year out of it." This quote is a summation from the last attorney to try Dr. J.R. Brinkley in a court of law.

In Charlatan, Pope Brock takes us through the, frankly, amazing career of Dr. Brinkley who had a successful 20 year career spanning the 1920's and 1930's which started with the transplantation of goat testicles into humans. He started, of course, with men but then discovered that women, too, would pay handsomely for the promise of "rejuvenation". All of this without a medical degree and after loosing medical licenses that he had purchased. How did he do it?


That's right. In the early 1900's Brinkley built an AM radio station just inside of Mexico (call letters XERA), to avoid US broadcasting standards, and reached through much of the country hyping his cure-alls from morning to night. But, he was no fool. He also broadcast "hillbilly" music, giving The Carter Family, among others, national exposure.

He also eventually stopped performing surgeries. Was it the loss of lives, the threat of lawsuits, the constant pursuit of Morris Fishbein of the AMA that caused him to stop? No. It was the discovery that if he answered listeners letters through his program Medical Question Box. All the good doctor had to do was sit back, answer the letters on air and send everyone to their local pharmacists to buy drugs that had no names, only numbers. Of course, these were his own brews and mostly alcohol.

Never one to sit on his laurels, Brinkley also twice ran for governor of Kansas and added evangelism to his radio programming, with himself as orator.

Pope Brock has uncovered a fascinating story. And, although I sometimes found his writing style to be slightly confusing, he has told the story in a very compelling fashion with many characters and "cameos" of the days writers, politicians and musicians.

This is a nonfiction book with a story that reads like fiction. And it would be quite easy to sit back and scoff at the gullibility of the, mostly, small town folk of the time until you look at current events and the number of people who make a living selling books with bogus diets or randomly calling people and actually getting money from them with threats of law suits for debts they don't even owe. When was the last time someone knocked on your door claiming to be from the cable or power company?

To quote an "anonymous geezer" from the book, "I knowed he was bilking me, but...I liked him anyway." ( )
1 vote retropelocin | Dec 13, 2013 |
This is a fascinating account of the life of Dr. Brinkley, a man who managed to convince the world that a goat testicle transplant could restore youth and fertility and cure a host of ills. Brinkley is a horrific and fascinating character - he was responsible for the deaths of dozens, if not hundreds of people and the financial ruin of hundreds, if not thousands more. Yet he was an indefatigable salesman and innovator. His innovations in the use of radio for advertising, and his popularization of country music, have had a lasting effect on radio ever since.

Brock also tells the story of Brinkley's nemesis, Fishbein, who worked for the American Medical Association and fought for years to ruin Brinkley's name and career. Fishbein's determination is interesting, and he did finally succeed in discrediting Brinkley.

Brock does a great job of describing these events with humor without demeaning or belittling his subject. This was a fascinating and entertaining read. ( )
  Gwendydd | Nov 11, 2013 |
In the early 1900's a man by the name of John R. Brinkley was working miracles. He was rejuvenating old men, returning to them their lost...ummm, youthfulness. Because, really, what good is a man who can't get an erection? Brinkley had just the cure for these poor, 'worthless' men. Goat testicles. Yes, really.

Brinkley was a quack doctor, playing up on the fears and weaknesses of others to gain huge profits. He convinced a nation of men that he could restore their bodies by implanting goat glands into their scrotums. (Yes, really.) He did this without a medical license of any kind, or any education to speak of. All he had was a knife, some goats, and a whole lot of willing participants.

Brinkley dabbled in more than just goat testicles, however. He also sold false medicines that did nothing, and injected people with mixtures that turned out to be just colored water that not only did nothing to cure the patient, but could be deadly. He gave bad and potentially harmful advice to people across the country through his radio station, and he was the cause of death of at least 42 people that he signed the death certificates for, plus countless others that managed to make it out of his facilities alive to die elsewhere.

The saddest part is how little we have learned from our mistakes, there are still people like Mr. Brinkley out there even today. With the internet, they have an endless supply of gullible dupes to buy their phony products. There is a huge market and huge profits to be made with miracle drugs for weight loss, penis enlargement, increased sexual 'stamina,' and so forth, not to mention ineffective exercise equipment. Of course there are those out there who would capitalize on all this!

Combine that with the recent paranoia over 'organized' medicine and 'the medical establishment,' and the increased popularity with 'alternative' medicines and treatments, I would go so far as to say that now might be the best time imaginable for Quack doctors. I mean, really, who wouldn't spend $20 if they could gain 2 inches of penis, lose 10 pounds in a day, get rock hard abs while watching TV, and free their entire bodies of harmful chemicals by putting a sticker on the bottom of their foot? Sad, right?

Oh, and as for the book, fascinating!

A related note: The very morning that I wrote this review, July 16th 2011, the local news broadcast a story about Ensure Muscle, a chocolate drink that 'helps build muscle,' or so the company claims. However, you have to drink 2 bottles per day, so you have to consume an extra 500 calories and 44 grams of sugar daily in addition to the actual meals you eat. Worse, the studies are mixed and inconclusive as to whether it does what it claims in the first place. This is just one of countless examples. ( )
3 vote Ape | Jul 16, 2011 |
J.R. Brinkley (1885-1942) was a man always angling for a quick buck. But, more than that, he just wanted to be loved by everyone. He started out as a two-bit showman in a snake oil shop, but soon found out that having a medical degree was the way to really pull in the masses. After acquiring (read “buying”) a degree from a shoddy operation, he was licensed in eight states and began a quest to dupe hundreds of folks with “cures” from exotic places at his hospital in Milford, Kansas.

Then one day, a man came into his office timidly complaining of “no pep” and “wishing he had billy-goat nuts.” So, Brinkley had, as Dr. Seuss would call it, “a wonderful, awful idea,” and surgically implanted goat testicles into the man’s scrotum, claiming that it would invigorate him back to his former condition. Soon, thousands of patients came from all over the Midwest to get their virility back. It would have been bad enough if he had just stopped there. But, he started concocting hundreds of medical “solutions”—each with their own number—that people should take to ease their various ailments (these turned out to be colored water flavored with a fair amount of alcohol). Worms were treated with Prescription 94; post-appendectomy pain was cured with number 61; kidney stones needed 80, 50, and a little 64 (just to be sure, you know).

With his new-found riches, he bought a high-power radio station and blasted his message of better living through goat glands across the whole state. But, he still wasn’t finished. When the FCC shut down his Kansas station, he set another one across the Mexican border with one thousand times the transmitting power. On a clear night, his station XER could he picked up by radios in Canada. Ironically enough, for all the lies Brinkley told on the air, his stations started the careers of many famous musicians, including Gene Autry and the original Carter family. With his amassed wealth, he put himself in the race to become the governor of Kansas, using a private airplane to change the way that politicians get their message to the people. Needless to say, he quite the amount of moxie.

All while Brinkley tried to dupe millions out of their hard-earned money, Dr. Morris Fishbein, a legitimate doctor and head of the American Medical Association, continuously tried to call Brinkley out for the damage he had caused. Fishbein spent the better part of two decades doggedly exposing medical fraud and hucksterism so that the American public would see these men for the quacks that they were. The cat-and-mouse game between Fishbein and Brinkley is what makes this book fun to read. Brock’s Charlatan is very well-researched and quick-paced. I suffered a lot from the dreaded “just one more chapter” syndrome while reading this one. If you like a good back and forth tale of greed, American history, and justice, then this one is for you. ( )
2 vote NielsenGW | May 8, 2011 |
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Truth, sir, is a cow that will yield such people no more milk, and so they are gone to milk the bull. ---Samuel Johnson
For my daughters, Molly and Hannah.
Molly Pope
Hannah Pope
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Every member of the panel showed up for the demonstration, but the carload traveling from Kansas City was delayed by bad roads.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307339882, Hardcover)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:58 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Tells the story of the little-known Dr. John Brinkley and his unquenchable thirst for fame and fortune and Morris Fishbein, a quackbuster extraordinaire who relentlessly pursued the greatest charlatan of the 1920s and 1930s.

(summary from another edition)

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