Beyond the Book: Background information when reading Charlatan

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America's Most Dangerous Huckster, the Man Who Pursued Him, and the Age of Flimflam

by Pope Brock

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  • First Published:
    Feb 2008, 336 pages
    Jan 2009, 336 pages

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Amy Reading

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Beyond the Book

Quack Medicine

In the nineteenth century, when even mainstream medical therapies included painful bloodletting and leeching, quack* medicine didn't seem quite so quacky.

If you wanted your hair to grow, you could don a Thermocap to send just the right amount of heat to your follicles. If your eyes were weak, you could apply the Neu-Vita Oculizer to massage your muscles and improve your eyesight. If you had a "female complaint"—code for an unwanted pregnancy—you could down a tonic containing pennyroyal. If your problem was onanism, you could submit to a bracing ice water bath each night from a belt that circulated tubes between your legs. If, on the other hand, your problem was blocked sexual energy, you could purchase vibrators discreetly marketed as vaginal washers.

Most quack medicine provided generalized remedies for vague ills. Magnetism had scores of devotees who sported magnetic belts, combs, and brushes—forerunners of today's ...

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