CHARLATAN by Pope Brock


America’s Most Dangerous Huckster, the Man Who Pursued Him, and the Age of Flimflam
Email this review


He truly had cojones: Dr. John Brinkley became fabulously wealthy in the 1920s and ‘30s by inserting goat testicles into herds of men anxious about their manliness.

Easily outfitted with a diploma from the “Bennett Eclectic Medical College,” Brinkley had more than a decade of quackery behind him when he was forced by poverty to settle down temporarily with a desultory practice in Milford, Kan. Then one day an exhausted farmer, concerned about the working order of his privates, expressed a fancy for “billy goat nuts.” Eureka! The doctor fulfilled his wish. It was the genesis of the age of rejuvenation by gonad implantation. The testicular repairman had his finger on the pulse of America’s organic members, and he made a splendid fortune. Imitators multiplied at home and abroad. Brinkley ran for governor of Kansas and began to notice “the resemblance between himself and the Son of God.” To spread the good news, particularly of his profitable nostrums and medical manhandling, the bunkum medico operated a radio station just south of the Texas border, conveniently beyond the reach of the Federal Radio Commission and its “fuddy-duddy regulations.” No matter what all those on-air testimonials claimed, the results were not good. Rejection and infection made Brinkley a mass murderer. His license was revoked and he lost the ball game. The winner was the AMA’s redoubtable Dr. Morris Fishbein, associate of notables like Sinclair Lewis, Eugene Debs and H.L. Mencken, and himself a force of nature. With sprightly style, Brock (Indiana Gothic: A Story of Adultery and Murder in an American Family, 1999) exposes the randy rise of a master huckster and his fall at the hands of a relentless quack hunter. It’s a fine account of medical fakery, congenital scientific stupidity and the habitual human appetite for being fooled and exploited.

Wonderful American social history and lots of fun.

Pub Date: Feb. 5th, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-307-33988-1
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Crown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 2007


FictionDR. BRINKLEY'S TOWER by Robert Hough
by Robert Hough