Thursday, February 21, 2008

New and In stores: Charlatan by Pope Brock

You know how it is, you walk past Barnes and Nobles, and you see a book in the window that you just can't resist. That's how I felt when I saw the window display for Charlatan by Pope Brock.

Here's the synopsis:

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 pitted 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.

Sounds intriguing doesn't it? I love reading about interesting bits of Americana that haven't been done to death by other writers. I had never heard of either Brinkley or Fishbein until I saw this book in the bookstores. It's gotten rave reviews from both The New York Times and The Washington Post. I even paid full-price for it (well after my Barnes and Noble discount). After all, he has twin daughters whose college tuition is probably going to cost $75,000 a year by the time they turn 18. Right now, it's sitting in my TBR pile along with the huge pile of books by other author friends. Seriously, I need to find some friends who are not writers.

After meeting Pope, in a playwright's workshop at The Players Club here in New York, I read his first book American Gothic, a fabulous book about a long hidden family secret: His great-grandfather had been murdered after having an affair with his wife's sister. Talk about creative non-fiction! I'm amazed that this book has not been snapped up and made into a movie starring Brad Pitt or Kevin Costner.

If you're a history geek like me who loves to read non-fiction that reads like a thriller or the best fiction out there, pick up a copy of Charlatan and American Gothic.

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