Medicine wasn’t always the hygienic, sterilized process we have today, and the road of progress is paved by both well-meaning doctors and quacks who capitalized on misinformation. Quackery, written by a medical doctor and a librarian/historian/journalist, chronicles the history of medicine’s missteps.
Medicine has existed in some form since the Neatherthals, but prevailing theories changed hundreds of times. From bloodletting to burning, enemas to lobotomies, authors Kang and Pedersen describe the procedures, the doctors, and the reasons behind truly horrifying – yet widely accepted and trusted – practices. Quackery also details many of the numerous fake cures that sprang up around these theories, some of which were simply get-rich-quick schemes and others the product of truly delusional minds. The text itself is wickedly humorous and extremely readable. It’s divided into chapters covering major cure ingredients or practices such as Strychnine, Electricity, Animal Magnetism, etc. Within these chapters are subheadings, and the text is broken up with photographs, illustrations, and vintage advertisements.
This was an extremely fun and quirky book to read. I couldn’t help thinking, as I read about Radionics and Universal Magnetic Fluid, that people were extremely gullible in the past. It’s easy to judge our ancestors, looking at these tales from an era where we have so much knowledge at our fingertips. But then again, can we really criticize people who believed they could cure lameness with an electrified hairbrush when millions fall for alternative therapies every day (check Quackwatch.org for some recent examples)? Are our purchase of weight loss pills and adherence to fad diets so different from those who ate freeze-dried tapeworms or checked themselves into Linda Hazzard’s Institute of Natural Therapeutics and paid to be starved to death? It seems the more things change, the more they stay the same, at least in our willingness to believe in a quick cure for our health woes.
Note: I received a Digital Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher, but the thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.