Radio Bristol Book Club: Charlatan: America’s Most Dangerous Huckster, the Man Who Pursued Him, and the Age of Flimflam

Welcome to Radio Bristol Book Club! Each month, readers from BCM and the Bristol Public Library come together to celebrate and explore one book inspired by our region’s rich Appalachian cultural and musical heritage. We invite you to read along and then listen to Radio Bristol on the fourth Thursday of each month at 11:00am when we will dig deep into the feelings and questions raised by the books, learn more about the authors, and celebrate the joys of being a bookworm!

The title of July’s book club pick – Charlatan: America’s Most Dangerous Huckster, the Man Who Pursued Him, and the Age of Flimflam – says it all, and as you can imagine, the story told is a wild ride! In 1917, John R. Brinkley arrived in the tiny town of Milford, Kansas where he set up a medical practice. This was a time of patent medicines, each often more outlandish than the next, and Brinkley had been creating and selling these quack remedies throughout the southeastern United States. In Milford he soon introduced a surgical method that used goat glands to restore the fading virility of local farmers – it was an instant hit despite being total nonsense, making Brinkley’s name famous and making him rich. Soon Brinkley was being pursued by Morris Fishbein, who swore to put America’s “most daring and dangerous” charlatan out of business. Charlatan tells this true story with all of its bamboozles, cons, and detective work, but it also explores the impact Brinkley had on politics, along with the world of broadcasting through border radio, musical genres, and even The Carter Family!

Left: Cover of Charlatan is black with ornate red font for the word Charlatan (main title), white font for the subtitle, and red font for the author's name. There is a white male billy goat in the center of the cover.
Right: Low, one-story building in a barren landscape with a massive radio transmitter behind it reaching up to the sky. XER is written above the building's doore.

The cover of Pope Brock’s Charlatan, and a photograph of XER’s radio transmitter on the border of Texas and Mexico. XER image found at www.theradiohistorian.org (probable “orphan” work)

Pope Brock is a writer, teacher, and DJ living in Arlington, Massachusetts. Along with Charlatan, he is the author of two other books: Indiana Gothic, about the murder of his great-grandfather, and Another Fine Mess: Life on Tomorrow’s Moon, a work of what might be called speculative nonfiction. Brock also writes for a host of other publications, and his articles have appeared in GQ, Esquire, Rolling Stone, and the London Sunday Times Magazine, amongst others.

Black and white headshot of author Pope Brock wearing a dark button-down shirt.

Pope Brock. Image from his website

Be sure to tune in on Thursday, July 23 at 11:00am to hear the book club discussion about Charlatan: America’s Most Dangerous Huckster, the Man Who Pursued Him, and the Age of Flimflam and listen to an interview afterwards with the author! You can find us on the dial at 100.1 FM, streaming live on Radio Bristol, or via the Radio Bristol app. The book is available at the Bristol Public Library so be sure to pick up a copy and read it ahead of time – the librarians will be happy to help you find the book. We look forward to sharing our thoughts on this book’s interesting story!

Looking ahead: Our book pick for August is Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap by Wendy Welch, which we’ll be discussing on Thursday, August 27. Happy reading!

Head Curator at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum

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