May 19, 2020 2:53 PM - by Lydia Kang, Pedersen, Nate - Subscribe

What won’t we try in our quest for perfect health, beauty, and the fountain of youth? Well, just imagine a time when doctors prescribed morphine for crying infants. When liquefied gold was touted as immortality in a glass. And when strychnine—yes, that strychnine, the one used in rat poison—was dosed like Viagra. Looking back with fascination, horror, and not a little dash of dark, knowing humor, Quackery recounts the lively, at times unbelievable, history of medical misfires and malpractices. Ranging from the merely weird to the outright dangerous, here are dozens of outlandish, morbidly hilarious “treatments”—conceived by doctors and scientists, by spiritualists and snake oil salesmen (yes, they literally tried to sell snake oil)—that were predicated on a range of cluelessness, trial and error, and straight-up scams. With vintage illustrations, photographs, and advertisements throughout, Quackery seamlessly combines macabre humor with science and storytelling to reveal an important and disturbing side of the ever-evolving field of medicine.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis (1 comment total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
This was a bus read from my commute that was half-finished in the before times and I only regained the spoons to finish it now. It's timely! This is one of those colorful but informative non-fiction books that leads you through the absolute cavalcade of really silly things we used to cure ourselves with. Written by Dr. Kang and her co-writer Nate, this book isn't exactly news to those of us who are aware of the absolutely dire bullshit in medicine past- but some of the details are genuinely interesting, and some of the devices and "cures" (and the quacks behind them) are interesting enough that I'd read whole books that were written with more specificity. Some of the past medicines were used because we just didn't know any better, and you can even see the logic, however flawed behind early humanities attempts to cure themselves. Other times the falseness was a deception and obviously a ploy for money and fame. It is amazing how many of these still are considered by the fringe to be effective. Of interest is if there is a germ of truth in a theory, at the end of the chapter the authors will elucidate what modern medicine can do with whatever oddity of the past they are discussing. An easy to read but not un-informative book, that will make you feel a little better about your own medicines. At least you aren't taking snake oil.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 3:00 PM on May 19, 2020 [3 favorites]

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