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charlatan-9781400136070-lgI wasn’t quite sure what I was expecting when I bought Charlatan: America’s Most Dangerous Huckster, the Man Who Pursued Him, and the Age of Flimflam, but the topic caught my attention. I have to say that I loved it. It was a narrative type of non-fiction that I like to read and Pope Brock can tell an intriguing story.

Of course, he also found a great subject to write about, which is half of the battle.

In the early 20th century, confidence man John Brinkley came up with his ultimate money-making scheme. He would use surgery and goat testicles to restore male virility. It makes most men cringe nowadays, but think about some of the odd things we still do to maintain our youth that involved surgery.

Brinkley also developed a sideline of selling potions and pills that turned out not to contain what they claimed to contain. This sort of thing was going on before Brinkley with snake oil salesmen and still continues today.

I found myself reading the book and thinking how could people fall for this, but then I thought about the modern equivalents and wondered how many times I’ve been taken in without knowing it.

Brinkley made a fortune off his quack theories and inspired a lot of copycat “doctors.” He also left behind dozens of dead and maimed people, all the while claiming success.

So, if Brinkley was the antagonist, the protagonist would be Morris Fishbein, the editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association. I’m not sure about other readers, but I just didn’t like Fishbein. I actually found myself hoping that he would fail in his efforts to destroy Brinkley. On the other hand, I found myself cheering for Brinkley at times because he wouldn’t be stopped. He kept reinventing himself to work around the restrictions that were thrown at him. I admired that even though I hated what he was doing.

dr-_john_r-_brinkley

“Dr.” John Brinkley looking like a medical professional.

 

I’ve seen a few movies and read some books lately where I didn’t like either the protagonist or antagonist. Who do you root for then?

Besides his gross medical malpractice, Brinkley also had an impact on politics, radio, and country music.

One reason why Brinkley was successful with his scams was because he was a master marketer. His initial marketing efforts dealt with newspaper advertising and direct mail. He recognized the marketing potential of the new media of the day, radio, and made the most of it.

When the government started to crack down on how the airwaves were used, Brinkley moved south of the border and opened a radio station in Mexico that eventually broadcast more than a million watts. Not only was this more powerful than his Oklahoma radio station had been, it was more powerful than all of the U.S. radio stations combined.

Besides pitches for his products and surgeries, Brinkley also presented entertainment. Many of the performers he chose went on to become pioneers in country music.

When Fishbein started to have an impact on Brinkley’s goat gland empire, he used his radio popularity to move into politics and very nearly became elected governor of Oklahoma as a third-party candidate.

I found Charlatan to be a fascinating story. I kept guessing at what Brinkley would do next to outwit Fishbein and his other detractors.

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My wife and I went to see Unbroken last night. I loved the book and was very excited to see the movie, but it didn’t live up to the book. As my wife pointed out, “The book is always better.”

But why is that? The movie was well acted and the effects looked good. So I was trying to think about why it left me disappointed.

Part of it was definitely because a lot needed to be cut from the book. The movie focuses on Louis Zamperini’s prison-camp experiences. It certainly is the most-exciting part of the book when Zamperini is facing life-or-death consequences.

It only gives his running career and change from petty thief to Olympic champion a partial look and pretty much ignores his battle and recovery from post-traumatic stress. By giving those two sections of his life short shift, it ignored significant parts of what made Zamperini such an interesting person.

His running childhood and running career showed readers how he developed such a strong belief in “If you can take it, you can make it.” The movie made his rise to fame as an Olympic runner look fairly simple. It wasn’t.

Also, while the WWII experiences showed how Louis remained unbroken physically and mentally, the last part showed why he was unbroken spiritually. This was perhaps the most-important part of the story.

Running came easy to him. He worked hard at it, but his life wasn’t on the line only his pride. His WWII experiences were a greater challenge to him and nearly broke him at times, but he hung on. However, I would say that his post-traumatic stress did break him. He became an alcoholic.

That is not to say that he didn’t put his life back together. With help, he repaired himself and learned how to move forward. This might not have been exciting to see on the screen, but it was important for the man.

Go see the movie. It’s definitely worth it, but when you finished watching the movie, do yourself a favor and read the book by Laura Hillenbrand. As my wife says, “The book is always better than the movie.”

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Lock Ready Cover ShotHere’s the cover art for my new historical novel that coming out next month. Lock Ready is my first historical novel in seven years. It’s also been 10 years since I wrote my last Canawlers novel.

Lock Ready once again return to the Civil War and the Fitzgerald Family. The war has split them up. Although George Fitzgerald has returned from the war, his sister Elizabeth Fitzgerald has chosen to remain in Washington to volunteer as a nurse. The ex-Confederate spy, David Windover, has given up on his dream of being with Alice Fitzgerald and is trying to move on with his life in Cumberland, Md.

Alice and her sons continue to haul coal along the 184.5-mile-long C&O Canal. It is dangerous work, though, during war time because the canal runs along the Potomac River and between the North and South. Having had to endured death and loss already, Alice wonders whether remaining on the canal is worth the cost. She wants her family reunited and safe, but she can’t reconcile her feelings between David and her dead husband.

 

Her adopted son, Tony, has his own questions that he is trying to answer. He wants to know who he is and if his birth mother ever loved him. As he tries to find out more about his birth mother and father, he stumbles onto a plan by Confederate sympathizers to sabotage the canal and burn dozens of canal boats. He enlists David’s help to try and disrupt the plot before it endangers his new family, but first they will have find out who is behind the plot.

 

I’ve had fun writing about the Fitzgeralds over the years, but at this point, I see this as my last Canawlers novel. I do have an idea for a non-fiction C&O Canal book, but it will still be years before it comes out. Until then, I hope you enjoy my three Canawlers novels and one novella. The best order to read them in is: Canawlers, Between Rail and River, Lock Ready and The Race.

 

 

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