The history of medicine is not pretty. However, if you are in the right mood and frame of mind, it can be pretty funny. Over the years people have tried some wild things to make themselves feel better, and Quackery: a brief history of the worst ways to cure everything grants us a closer look at some of those treatments and times, from ancient Greece through the age of disco. This whirlwind tour of medical history includes tapeworm diets, mercury treatments for syphilis, electric brushes for baldness, the starvation diet of Bernarr Macfadden, and a whole lot of bloodletting.
While Quackery is not the only book on horrible things humans have done to make themselves feel better, it covers a swath of space and time with a breezy tone, empathy, and fairly alarming historical images. Even if you’ve read other books on this subject (such as Get well soon: history's worst plagues and the heroes who fought them), there’s new information to be found in this book. Lydia Kang covers both well-known medical history and some of the more obscure parts of medical history, like the orign of the phrase “snake oil salesman”. Clark Stanley, former cowboy and self-proclaimed Rattlesnake King, made a concoction of beef tallow, red pepper, and turpentine. He said it was rattle snake oil and sold it as a patent medicine. Thus Clark Stanley became the first snake oil salesman, peddling hope for money.
Greed, desperation, and hope act on the people in this book the way they act on us all, pulling us in directions we wouldn’t expect while we search for wellbeing, good health and cures for various ailments. But at least in Quackery: a brief history of the worst ways to cure everything we can see a light at the end of the tunnel because we, the readers, know anesthesia, antibiotics, and doctors who wash their hands are right around the corner.