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

Charlatan by Pope Brock
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's review
Apr 14, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: biography, culture, history, medicine, thats-messed-up
Read in June, 2008

I've decided I am going to start commenting on the books I read here. Hey, I'm fickle..

I can't remember where I read a review of this, but it caught my attention. I'm glad it did.

"Dr." John R. Berkely is one of the most interesting characters I've read about for a long time. He was an old-time snake oil salesman who bridged the gap into the modern age, using radio and mass mailing to bilk untold numbers of men with promises of masculine rejuvenation with his mysterious goat gland treatments. In the meantime he invented border radio, helped make the Carter family musicians a national sensation, befriended the Duke & Duchess of Windsor, darned near became the governor of Kansas in 1930, and ruined countless lives with his botched operations. He was the Forrest Gump of American quackery.

While the book focuses on Brinkley, it also features his arch-nemesis, quack-busting editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. Morris Fishbein. The two go at it over the decades, finally squaring off in a courtroom in Del Rio.

I loved this author's writing style. He made me laugh out loud several times - almost as many times as he made me squirm. I kept thinking how all of this was going on during my grandparents' youth -- not all that long ago in the scheme of things. One of my favorite lines from the book:

"His career was sustained in part by America's deep reluctance to criminalize greed."

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