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

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Crown/Archetype, Feb 5, 2008 - Biography & Autobiography - 336 pages
3 Reviews
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.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Charlatan: America's most dangerous huckster, the man who pursued him, and the age of flimflam

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In this lively and absorbing biography, Brock deftly captures the consummate snake-oil salesman and gifted entrepreneur John R. Brinkley (1885-1942), in his day America's most famous (albeit ... Read full review

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What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. - Ecclesiastes 1:9
This a tremendous story - amazing really - that has lessons to teach all
of us regarding our unending obsession with youth, fitness, health, aging, virility, and our own mortality. Every day it seems that a new "revolutionary" product is launched that promises to keep us young, slim, viral and wrinkle-free.
Currently, an $80 billion dollar industry, anything related to anti-aging will experience explosive growth over the next decade as baby boomers enter retirement. There is an entire legion of companies, entrepreneurs, doctors, surgeons and assorted others who are hustling to create products and procedures to feed their desire to remain "forever young."
This is where it gets dangerous, and where we can learn a great deal from Charlatan. This is the story of John Brinkley, a con-man who portrayed himself as a doctor and offered men a "cure" for the diminished virility and "manliness" they experienced due to aging: he would transplant their testicles with those of a goat. While the very idea seems ridiculous, it is important that we consider the times, and, in doing so, think about our own times. Every new supplement, lotion, potion or procedure comes with the words "revolutionary," "scientific-breakthrough," or "newly discovered" attached to it - we are to believe that they have discovered the fountain of youth and will solve our problem. The irony is, if you pay attention, these products often come with a very heavy dose of advertising and marketing - they push HARD - to separate you from your money - and often disappear within a couple years. Why? Because enough people figure out that they are bogus and simply quit buying them, and the manufacturer, knowing they are bogus, has often already moved on to the next gimmick.
Think about all the products you've seen (or bought) over the years, such as the thigh-master, metabolite, bow-flex, the shake weight, quick slim, alli, the gazelle (really anything by Tony Little), 6-minute abs and so on. Or just watch TV after 10 pm and you will see the latest and greatest - all available for $19.95 (call now and they will double your order!). This onslaught of fitness and health products is big business and has no end, and it has always preyed on our vanity and insecurity to feed its bottom line.
Almost all of these scams promote the same idea: you don't have to change anything in your life, just buy this product and the years and pounds will melt away. It is difficult to remember, in the face of the all-out marketing assault, that the real goal is to get you to buy something, not do something. We cannot stop aging, but we can age well - but no product will do that for us. There are some supplements and other products that can help - moisturizers, sunscreens, a multiple vitamin and the like. But there is no revolutionary gadget, gizmo, drink, shot, lotion, potion or pill that will radically transform your body - there just isn't.
What is ironic is that Jack Lalanne told us everything we need to know about staying healthy and aging gracefully - in the 1950's. If you search for him in Youtube you can watch a video from his television show and you will learn all you need to know. The problem is that this does little to fuel the billion-dollar industry - which relies on ignorance, fear, insecurity and expendable income to keep going - and growing. Listen to Jack Lalanne and you will be way ahead of the pack - and you will save your money.
If you feel just a little uneasy about the vast number of programs, products and gadgets that are available to "help you get in shape," Charlatan is a revealing history that sheds light on the mindset and motivation of those who offer these wonder cures. Yes, I believe that there are some good products and well-intentioned practitioners - but they swim in an ocean of scam-artists and con-men. So, buyer-beware - if it

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Title Page Dedication Epigraph Prologue
Chapter 1
Chapter 5
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 33
Chapter 34
Chapter 36
Chapter 38
Chapter 39
Chapter 40
Chapter 42
Chapter 44

Chapter 22
Chapter 11
Chapter 29
Chapter 32
Chapter 49
Chapter 53
Selected Bibliography

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About the author (2008)

POPE BROCK is the author of the critically acclaimed Indiana Gothic, the story of his great-grandfather’s murder in 1908. Brock has written for numerous publications, including Rolling Stone, Esquire, GQ, and the London Sunday Times Magazine. He lives in upstate New York with his twin daughters, Molly and Hannah.

From the Hardcover edition.

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