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

3.80  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,863 Ratings  ·  378 Reviews
“An extraordinary saga of the most dangerous quack of all time...entrancing” –USA Today

In 1917, John R. Brinkley–America’s most brazen con man–introduced an outlandish surgical method for restoring fading male virility.

It was all nonsense, but thousands of eager customers quickly made “Dr.” Brinkley one of America’s richest men–and a national celebrity. The great quack b
Paperback, 324 pages
Published January 13th 2009 by Broadway Books (first published 2008)
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Nov 20, 2008 David rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone!
Oh my God! This arrived from Amazon and I just couldn't stop reading it. It's hilarious, outrageous, informative, entertaining, and Pope Brock, despite his alarmingly ravaged looking jacket photograph, writes like an angel. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that he has just the right demonic skill as a writer to do justice to his subject.

Goat testicles! Monkey glands! A larger than life scoundrel ("Doctor" J.R. Brinkley) with his own personal Inspector Javert (famed quackbuster Morris F
Nancy Oakes
Mar 06, 2009 Nancy Oakes rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have to confess that prior to reading this book I'd never heard of Dr. Brinkley, the goat-gland doctor. If you want a book that is interesting, and tells a bizarre story, this is it. I couldn't put this one down.

Brock's book focuses on one John R. Brinkley, who made a name for himself by promising to restore the lost vigor of youth to men just after WWI and then during the Depression. His treatment was simple: remove a goat testicle, insert it into a man's scrotum and voila. He used glands to
Jan 23, 2012 Kirsti rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Kristin, Jenny, Jan McGill, Seizure Romero
This is the best book I have ever read about goat testicles. As if that weren’t enough to make you want to read it, let me add that it’s about a quack doctor who pioneered advances in advertising, public relations, radio, and modern political campaigning. For many years, his biggest problem was that other, inferior con men would steal the new ideas he came up with.

J. R. Brinkley would today be hailed as a genius, except that he was a con man, bigamist, demagogue, and anti-Semite. Also, he had t
Bob Redmond
May 02, 2009 Bob Redmond rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book has won a permanent place on my shelf, if just for the joy of seeing it there and being reminded of what an outrageous place is our country, and what roots lie beneath our current, so-called civilization.

Pope Brock, in perfect pitch, tells the story of John Brinkley, not just a quack doctor, but a man who had immense and lasting influence on medicine, politics, and radio. Brinkley invented a scam so perfect--no one who got fooled would dare admit it--that he made millions upon millions
Jan 28, 2009 Colleen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Amazing, beautifully researched book. I only picked up this book because I loathe the Smiling Bob commercials that are constantly on, and now I realize how lucky we truly are. Did not know that phony male enhancement crap has been forced on people since the dawn of time. And that it used to be much, much worse. Focuses on the terrible career of Dr. Brinkley, who is possibly in the running as the most prolific mass murderer/serial killer in American history. Definitely killed 42 people, but proba ...more
Dec 03, 2011 Lena rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, medical
There are some stories that are so outrageous they simply couldn't have been made up. The saga of "Dr." John Brinkley is one such tale.

Brinkley crawled out of North Carolina poverty in the first half of the twentieth century with modest skill as a small time con artist. Eventually, however, he stumbled upon the rejuvenation fad. Science had figured out that the sex glands had something to do with youth and vigor, not to mention sexual potency, but they had not yet discovered testosterone. In th
Jan 11, 2012 K rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to K by: Lena
Either the iphone is destroying my attention span, or many popular non-fiction books would have worked far better as long magazine articles.

The story of "Dr." Brinkley sounds fascinating. A major 1920s-1930s con-artist with minimal medical training successfully passes himself off as a surgeon promising rejuvenation to lots of naive people, who all allow him to cut them open and sew goat glands into their bodies. Far more gifted as a business-minded marketer than as a surgeon, Brinkley ends up pi
Teri Beckelheimer
Mar 23, 2015 Teri Beckelheimer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2015
Charlatan is a book about the "goat gland guy". John R. Brinkley was a self-proclaimed doctor from the 1930s who performed surgeries to implant goat glands into men (and some women) to rejuvenate them. To be completely frank, this man was a "charlatan" or quack doctor who made thousands believe that by inserting goat glands into men's testes they could be young and revitalized, sexually and otherwise. Rather than help them, many left his hospital in worse shape than they started if they even lef ...more
Jill Hutchinson
Men, is your sex life not what it should be? Have you lost that spark? Dr. Brinkley's Goat Gland surgery will turn you into a young man again!!!

If we saw that advertisement today, we would laugh but that was not the case in the 1920-30s. John Brinkley who passed himself off as a physician (which he was not) and claimed graduation from various schools of medicine became one of the most famous men during the early 20th century with his "ground breaking" medical practices for everything from impote
Leah K
Jan 25, 2012 Leah K rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 imagi
May 30, 2008 Mazola1 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book tells the incredible story of John Brinkley, a medical fraud who transplanted goat testicles into men to "rejuvenate" them. Brinkley became unimaginably rich, bringing in a million dollar income at a time when most doctors were earning just a few thousand dollars a year. A gifted flim flam artist, he was also a man of great imagination and creativity. He was among the first to use radio to advertise, to campaign for political office using an airplane and to put country music on the rad ...more
Asa Wilder
Apr 09, 2015 Asa Wilder rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is so fun. It's written a bit sensationally, but then again how else do you tell the story of a psycho con man fake doctor who became one of the richest men America by surgically inserting diced goat balls into old men's scrotums, was cheated out of the Governorship of Kansas, basically invented modern day campaigning, revolutionized marketing, started and ran the most powerful and popular radio station in the country (from mexico) that featured astrologists and psychics, introduced Am ...more
Jeff Jellets
Jan 20, 2016 Jeff Jellets rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
“This book is better than goat glands!”

Charlatan is a wonderful historical masterpiece that pulls from obscurity the larger-than-life battle between flimflam artiste extraordinaire 'Dr.' J.R. Brinkley and Morris Fishbein, ‘quack-buster-in-chief’ of the fledgling American Medical Association (AMA). Brinkley, a medical huckster of epic proportions, rose from impoverished obscurity in the early decades of the 20th century to become one of the most well-known (and richest) ‘doctors’ in all America .
J.M. Hushour
May 18, 2014 J.M. Hushour rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Dr." John Brinkley made a fortune off of "transplanting" goat testicles into the ball-sacs and mind of America's wilting men in the decades prior to World War II. For women, he could offer the insertion of goat ovaries to stimulate fertility. John Brinkley is considered the most notorious, if unsung, serial killers of the modern era. He was shitbaggery incarnate, a greedy, conniving right-wing quack who nearly won the governor's seat in Kansas, thought the Nazis had a good thing going, and he b ...more
Adam Rosenbaum
Sep 25, 2014 Adam Rosenbaum rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Goat testicle transplants for virility, impotence and lethargy? You bet. In the 1920's and 1930's, John Brinkley performed thousands of these procedures to gullible men from all over the country and became fabulously wealthy. He was the creme de la creme when it came to con-men. He prayed upon people's insecurities, yet was a true pioneer in marketing, public relations, advertising, country music and radio. Pope tells an intriguing tale of quackery, greed, and innovation. As I see ads today for ...more
Steve Chaput
Nov 05, 2012 Steve Chaput rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If Pope Brock had simply written about "Doctor" John R. Brinkley, his book on this medical huckster would have been interesting enough. Brinkly made millions during a time in the early to mid-twentieth century when his countrymen were unemployed and loosing everything they had. Fortunately, Brock puts Brinkley and the real doctor who spent decades trying to expose him, Dr. Morris Fishbein, into their proper place im the medical history of the U.S.

Long before Bob Dole was peddling little blue pil
Jeffrey Taylor
Dec 17, 2011 Jeffrey Taylor rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an amazing history of a subject I knew nothing about. It deals with medical fraud, false advertising not to mention the influence of money on politics and corruption. How this man could fleece millions from trusting victims, kill hundreds and escape punishment while living the lush life, tells of the kind of things which were wrong in our country and still are problems. It is an object lesion showing how hard it is for professional organizations to self regulate, the consequences of gove ...more
Apr 12, 2009 Ciara rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of medical curiosities, kansas historians, AMA historians, modern-day hucksters
Shelves: read-in-2009
definitely very engaging. i read the whole thing start to finish in like six hours, including the source notes. it tells the joint tale of john brinkley, a quack doctor who made a fortune sewing goat tasticles into the testicles of men seeking "rejuvenation" (a cure for impotence, aging, dementia, retardation, general ill feeling, etc), & morris fishbein, editor of the "journal of american medical association," a devoted quack-buster who considered brinkley his everest. the book charts the 2 ...more
I related to this book immediately. I assumed before I saw the advance reader's edition, that it had something to do with Hadacol. Invented in New Orleans, this was the product of choice when I was growing up. It was a cure-all, good for everything from colds to depression—and no wonder, as it contained 12% alcohol! The proponent of this 'miracle' cure (Senator Dudley J. LeBlanc) had much in common with John R. Brinkley of Charlatan in that neither were medical doctors and both were attracted to ...more
This might be one of the funniest books ever written. Dr. Brinkley was a guy with no medical training who becomes the nation's premier Goat Gland Specialist (which promised a specific type of youthful rejuvenation for middle-aged men). What he lacks in skill he more than makes up for with a slick sales pitch and a 500,000 watt radio station. After amassing a fortune, he almost becomes the Governor of the State of Kansas (actually would have been except that as a write-in candidate, many of his f ...more
Gerald Sinstadt
Jan 01, 2010 Gerald Sinstadt rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
For a while in the last Century John Brinkley was the most famous medical man in the world. Whether he was actually a doctor is dubious. What is undeniable is that his glorious rise and infamous fall has become the subject of a brilliant book, authoritative, widely researched, eminently readable and consistently funny.

Brinkley first made his name by offering "rejuvenating" procedures for the male inhabitants of Kansas who had lost their zest for life - or more precisely their zest for their wif
Dec 05, 2007 Peggy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In February, 2008, Crown will publish a book called Charlatan: America's Most Dangerous Huckster, The Man Who Pursued Him, And the Age of Flimflam. I wanted to read it from the moment I saw the cover, which I swear they must have cooked up just for me, because my picking up the book was a foregone conclusion once I saw the goat.

The huckster in question, John Romulus Brinkley, pioneered the implantation of goat naughty bits into both men and women to reinvigorate them (both generally and sexually
Jun 10, 2009 Joshua rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2009
This was fascinating stuff that involves a lot of early medical flim flam done by "doctors" (that term could be used very loosely in the early parts of the 20th century)--particularly one doctor in particular: Dr. Brinkley. This guy pioneered the technique of goat gland surgery (sort of the viagra of its day) and spun his empire off to include made up phony prescription drugs (what cost him 10 cents he charged 10 bucks a pill--in the 1930s!) and the strongest radio signal in the world at one mil ...more
Just finished up the audiobook version of Charlatan - narrated by Johnny Heller. I've read several books on medical quackery, and was vaguely aware of the main character of this story.

The Charlatan of the title is "Doctor" John R. Brinkley - the "Goat Glands Man" whose charisma and confidence regarding his xeno-tranplantation virility treatments in the early decades of the 20th century turned the small towns of Milford Kansas and Del Rio, Texas into pseudo-medical powerhouses. Along the way, Bri
Apr 03, 2010 Michelle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Goat testicles. Yes, you did just read "goat testicles." This book has a lot of goat testicles. Get used to it quickly. And then enjoy this rather incredible (and true) story about a quasi-medical scam artist who made millions of dollars - even during the Great Depression - and who ran for governor of Kansas (and almost won!). His eventual fall from grace is inevitable, but the "doctor" Brinkley managed to flaunt authority and get away with whatever he wanted for many years. His nemesis? An actu ...more
Dixie Diamond
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aug 05, 2008 Diane rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I kind of enjoyed this book but it paled in comparison to Devil in the White City in some ways (Go read Devil in the White City if you haven't read it, then we'll talk. I couldn't put that book down with the dual story of the Chicago Expo and the murdering doctor. More entertaining that this one!)

I had read so many positive reviews of this book prior to reading it that my hopes were built up perhaps too high. It's a fun read about a Huckster and the early 20th century--be glad you weren't sick a
Oct 14, 2011 Barbm1020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a quick read as it is well-written and straightforward. I was surprised how widespread "Dr." Brinkley's influence had been, and the famous names who were associated with him. As much as we poor ignorant patients may complain about the restrictive rules of the AMA with regard to putting enough doctors in business to take care of us all, it's clear the country needed a watchdog organization. There was some stomach-churning bad surgery going on back in the "good old days" when most medicin ...more
Jul 31, 2013 Caroline rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ladies, does your husband need "rejuvenation"? How about a goat testicle transplant to give him more pep?
Gentlemen, is your wife a bit lackluster? A transplant of chimpanzee thyroid gland and ovary transplant should do the trick!

These horrific medical practices were the work of the most outrageous charlatan ever, Dr. Brinkley. Forget about serial killers, this quack probably killed more innocent people than anyone else.

During the Depression, most genuine medical doctors made 3,000- 3,500 a ye
Nov 13, 2015 Kate rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This book was in the Yale Alumni Magazine as a professor's guilty summer reading; I figured it had to be worth a look and it definitely was! What a funny little corner of history that I knew absolutely nothing about!

The story is about J.R. Brinkley, the country's first major scam artist. Apparently he got rich transferring goat testicles into humans, but I don't think that's even actually possible. (I do wish the author would have weighed in on this.) it's amazing what he could get away with and
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If you think this is history, think again 1 10 May 27, 2015 10:30AM  
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Pope Brock is the author of the critically acclaimed Indiana Gothic: A Story of Adultery and Murder in an American Family, the story of his great-grandfather’s murder in 1908, and Charlatan: America's Most Dangerous Huckster, the Man Who Pursued Him, and the Age of Flimflam.

Brock has written for numerous publications, including Rolling Stone, Esquire, GQ, and the London Sunday Times Magazine.

He li
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“Then an orderly brought up the goat from the basement.” 1 likes
“Ten cents straight will be charged for all obituary notices to all business men who do not advertise while living. Delinquent subscribers will be charged fifteen cents per line for an obituary notice. Advertisers and cash subscribers will receive as good a send-off as we are capable of writing, without any charge whatsoever. Better send in your subscription, as the hog cholera is abroad in the land. —ALTOONA (KANSAS) TRIBUNE, JANUARY 1928” 0 likes
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