Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything is a historical overview of the many wrongheaded ways humans have sought to cure themselves of what ails them. We’re all familiar with the more commonly known quackery, the bloodletting, the leeches, and the laudanum. This book goes far deeper than that into some truly esoteric treatments.

Full of factoids and historical details and overflowing with full-color photos that depict the many advertisement and historical implements, this is a visually-oriented collection of treatments. Among one of my favorites was the tobacco smoke enema used to resuscitate drowning victims – preferred over the vulgarity of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. This dubious intervention failed frequently which is why “blowing smoke up your ass” refers to a false kind of flattery.

Sometimes the quackery did work on one thing–but what made it quackery was the idea that then it worked for everything. An enema clears your constipation, so why not have it treat cancer, too? The rationale for why some of these “cures” were supposed to work is sometimes more fascinating than the bizarre treatments themselves. However, before we start feeling superior to these credulous patients of the past, it might be chastening to note in 2007 Americans spent $3 billion on homeopathy–the quackiest of quackery. For modern quackery, just watch Real Housewives of Anywhere or any episode of Dr. Oz.

Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything is an enjoyable overview of pseudoscience and quackery from the past. There are illustrations on half or more of the pages depicting the implements, the ads, and the treatments from the past. It is well-organized and full of fascinating information with which I have been inundating friends over the last few weeks. Did you know…?

I wish they had been bolder in calling out today’s quackery. They do mention colonics, but there is so much junk medicine today I think mocking the junk medicine of the past is a bit hypocritical. We are just as credulous. The writers strive for a breezy, light tone full of humor, but sometimes the humor is just one groaner after another. I would rather they not try to funny when their humor is so flat. I still liked the book, but in spite of the humor, not because of it.

Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything will be released on October 17th. I received an advance copy from the publisher through a drawing on Shelf Awareness.

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