four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
34-May-June-2008
By: 
Pope Brock
user_rating: 
0

A-CharlatanWhat do country music, modern political campaigning, and the American Medical Association have in common? They were all tied to the life of one great con man, Dr. John Brinkley, who treated impotence by transplanting goat glands into humans and made a killing in the process (often literally). Charlatan chronicles Brinkley’s rise to preeminence in the 1920s and 1930s, first by exploring the world of quack medicines and patent cures, then by following the goat doctor into his forays into broadcasting and politics. His foil was Dr. Morris Fishbein, the indomitable editor of the Journal of American Medical Association, who struggled for years to expose Brinkley’s quackery. The lives of both men intersect with many of the most interesting figures and events of their time, making for a curious journey through America’s interwar years.
Crown. 336 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0307339882

Chicago Sun-Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Pope Brock reaches into the past and captures an incredible story—that of Dr. John R. Brinkley, whose goat gland implants promised restored vitality to men who today would simply pop a Viagra and get on with their business. … Brock’s writing is a blowtorch through butter, with none of the padding, none of the look-I-did-researching showing off of lesser writers." Neil Steinberg

Chicago Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"With a vast and wild cast of characters, and filled with issues and topics that resonate through the years and are as close as the nearest computer, Charlatan begs comparison with Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City and deserves to be a best seller." Rick Kogan

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Presentation is everything in telling this elaborate, many-faceted story. … Charlatan also has the good fortune to revolve around high drama." Janet Maslin

USA Today 4 of 5 Stars
"Brock masterfully captures this amazing and amusing history. A talented storyteller, he digs deep into the personal secrets of his characters and fleshes out this oddball slice of American drama with cameo appearances of famous historical figures such as Sinclair Lewis, Carl Sandburg, H. L. Mencken, the Duke of Windsor and Sigmund Freud." Don Oldenburg

Denver Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Pope Brock’s well-researched tale of a medical con artist reads like a novel and covers ground ranging from the evangelical movement to the birth of the modern political campaign to the radio airwaves." Janna Fischer

Critical Summary

Reviewers across the board bought what Pope Brock is selling. The author reeled them in with the incredible Brinkley, a quack who was one of a kind yet revealed so much about the era in which he lived. Critics were mesmerized by Brock’s ability to connect Brinkley’s life to other episodes in American history and fill them with vitality. Yet the true potency of Charlatan derives from Brock’s storytelling skill: many critics spent much of their reviews retelling the highly entertaining tales from the book. Like the work to which it was most often compared, Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City ( 2.5 of 5 Stars May/June 2003), Charlatan will surely prove to be popular with those who love American history as well as with those simply in search of a good yarn.