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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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3982426,858 (3.78)33
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, 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: The True Story of a Real Fake 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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Charlatan: America's Most Dangerous Huckster, the Man Who Pursued Him, and the Age of Flimflam by Pope Brock

★ ★ ★

Imagine, in today's time, going into a “doctors” office. He has no credentials except the ones he bought at degree mills. Imagine he asks you for $8000 in today's money in exchange for rejuvenation – health wise, sexually, and mentally. You agree and he does the procedure – by implanting a goat gland into your ovarian section or scrotal section (depending on gender obviously). And imagine that once released he would recommend you take his special medication – what it is you don't know, he just tells you to buy it and take it. So you buy half a dozen, coughing up a couple thousand more dollars. Just to find out that the “medication” is...water. And thus is the story of one “Doctor” John R. Brinkley. And that would only be one of his “brilliant” ideas in becoming rich off the gullible in the 1920s and 1930s. In a time before the AMA made the rules and the Food and Drug Admin barely existed, it was all too common to sell what you wanted and claim it did wonderful things (and sadly is still common even with the AMA and Food and Drug Admin around). Brinkley was only one of thousands selling fake miracle in a bottle (radioactive water anyone?) but this story revolved around Brinkley and the man that would try his hardest to stop him.

This was a very intriguing book on a part of history I know little about. Reviews have compared it to Erik Larson's writing but I won't go that far. The two stories of the huckster and the man that would catch him is muddled, not a seamless transition like Larson is so good at (in my opinion). There are A LOT of names to remember. In many cases people were mentioned once, only to be brought up 100 pages later with some significance to the story leaving me scrambling to remember who the person was to begin with. It did become more smoother as the book continued. Well researched and definitely interesting. ( )
  UberButter | Feb 9, 2016 |
Moderately interesting story, decently written and entertaining. Not really a life changer but something nice to read as light non-fiction. Interesting in the juxtaposition of the AMA knew that big pharma has and was making drugs that were fake, that were hurting people etc. but chose to crush this guy because he didn't play by the rules. Also interesting is that you never get the sense that anyone wants to stop him because he is killing/harming people but only because he is loud and hurting "doctors" images. ( )
  statmonkey | Feb 6, 2016 |
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 |
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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
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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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