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.
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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 AudioFile:
Perhaps the most striking fact about Brock's account of twenties' and thirties' hucksterism--and, specifically, the ultimate "snake oil salesman," John R. Brinkley--is its revelation that the obsession with virility fueling the popularity of such modern-day chemical enhancers as steroids and Viagra is nothing new. As Brock makes clear, most of the fraudulent "remedies" that "flimflam men" like Brinkley promoted were hyped as cures for impotency. Johnny Heller's twangy voice resonates with the expansive openness of the Midwestern environs where the book takes place and with just the right plaintive nasality when he's mimicking Brinkley himself. Brinkley's roly-poly nemesis, Morris Fishbein, was an equally colorful figure from the turbulent era between the two World Wars. Classic Americana. J.S.H. © AudioFile 2008, Portland, Maine-- Copyright © AudioFile, Portland, Maine
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