Pope Brock Interview, plus links to author biography, book summaries, excerpts and reviews

Pope Brock
Photo: Hannah Cattell Brock

Pope Brock

An interview with Pope Brock

Pope Brock answers questions about Charlatan

Why did you decide to tell this story?

I had never heard of John Brinkley before, but within two minutes after stumbling on his name – on museumofhoaxes.com – I was hooked. Any guy who would build the biggest radio station in the world to convince other men to get goat-testicle transplants is a pretty unusual character. He made millions of dollars at this during the Depression – even had women coming in for goat ovaries, which he plugged as a wrinkle-reducer and bust developer. When I learned he was also a pioneer in radio, in advertising, in politics, I knew what I'd be doing for the next two or three years.


What surprised you most about Brinkley's story?

I suppose his enormous impact on pop culture, which he's never gotten credit for. He's like Shoeless Joe Jackson: he's been kept out of the Hall of Fame because he's regarded as a crook. But John Brinkley seized on radio in its infancy with a sort of evil glee, before corporate America had any idea what to do with it, and showed the world the huge potential of broadcast advertising. He also accidentally changed the American pop music scene by giving country music, and later the blues, its first national audience. When he ran for governor of Kansas in 1930 – an election that was stolen from him, fittingly enough – he introduced the airplane into political campaigning; he invented the sound truck. As a quack he killed or maimed a lot of people, but meanwhile he was doing some amazing things.


How did Brinkley manage to fool so many successful industry titans and otherwise shrewd people?

Shrewd and successful people – like Harry Chandler of the Los Angeles Times, for example – were drawn to him because they thought Brinkley was one of them, a kindred spirit. But he was usually way ahead of them. Crime-wise he played three-dimensional chess.


How did the American medical community change to avoid such con artists?

When Brinkley was finally exposed, it was a watershed moment for American medicine. The whole profession had been so poorly regulated, it was overwhelmed with nuts and quacks, but the comet trail of fraud he left behind was so egregious, things finally changed. The American Medical Association gained the power it had sought for decades to enforce national licensing standards for doctors. Medical schools toughened their curricula. Diplomas became much harder to get. Quacks weren't stamped out completely, of course, far from it; but overall Brinkley's downfall marked the birth of modern medicine.


How are Brinkley's influences still felt in society?

In politics, advertising, music… The "border blaster" he built just across the Mexican border to promote his medical practice – combining raucous hard sell with pop tunes – established the template for AM radio.


Do you think Brinkley was a product of his time or could such a prominent scam still be perpetrated today?

Nobody could get away with the sort of gargantuan con game Brinkley ran at his peak, not with all the investigative media that's out there now. But health scams make up in numbers today what they lack in size. Some of those TV-infomercial gurus are plugging very dubious stuff; one of them did time for fraud, and he's back on the air today. Mostly though, like a lot of other things, health scams are a niche business now, with thousands of little cubbyholes on the internet.

Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Lincoln in the Bardo
    Lincoln in the Bardo
    by George Saunders
    George Saunders' Lincoln in the Bardo is a philosophy discourse brilliantly disguised as a ...
  • Book Jacket
    Tender
    by Belinda McKeon
    Most of us have heard the slightly trite saying: "If you love something, set it free." But one can ...
  • Book Jacket
    All Tomorrow's Parties
    by Rob Spillman
    In this absorbing memoir, co-founder of Tin House magazine, Rob Spillman, recalls his artistic ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
Victoria
by Daisy Goodwin

"A hit…The research is impeccable, the attention to detail, perfect." - The Sunday Mirror (UK)

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The Fifth Petal
    by Brunonia Barry

    Beloved author Brunonia Barry returns to the world of The Lace Reader with this spellbinding new thriller.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    I See You
    by Clare Mackintosh

    A dark and compelling thriller about an everyday woman trapped in the confines of her everyday world.
    Reader Reviews

Who Said...

What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading, you wish the author that wrote it was a ...

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

Solve this clue:

K Your F C

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.