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“Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything” by Lydia Kang M.D. and Nate Pedersen, Workman Publishing Company, Inc., 344 pages, $22.95.

“Quackery” is a compendium of virtually every worthless treatment foisted upon gullible patients by greedy hucksters since the beginning of recorded history. Fortunately, authors Lydia Kang M.D., who is an internist in Omaha, and Nate Pedersen, a freelance journalist in Oregon, have been able to inject a dose of levity into their opus, and if laughter is, indeed, the best medicine their book may have curative powers of its own.

The book is amply supplied with appropriate photographs and illustrations and each short topic makes it easy to read piecemeal, guaranteeing at least one chuckle or bizarre medical fact with every turn of the page. Those readers able to keep a straight face after reading the chapter on radionics should probably avoid the book.

While all of the comedic asides are not side-splitters, the humor is broad enough to soften even the most gruesome topics covered. If scatological jokes are the reader’s cupful (or bulb syringeful) of tea, then the mother lode may have been discovered here. Where else might a reader find that the use of tobacco-smoke enemas was an approved method of cardiopulmonary resuscitation in Victorian England?

While the majority of medical and surgical mismanagement was done by scientifically ignorant self-promoters, some of the worst offenders were the most acclaimed physicians of their eras. Many of the notable names in the establishment of the medical profession such as Galen and Paracelsus promoted the use of poisons like mercury, arsenic, strychnine and radon to treat various ailments.

Benjamin Rush, often called the father of American medicine and a signer of the Declaration of Independence, had an astonishing mortality rate of 46 percent of the patients he treated. And no colonial physician would have been caught without his trusty jar filled with leeches. In fact, the excessive bloodletting by those prized leeches undoubtedly contributed to the demise of George Washington because of a sore throat.

In short, this book is highly recommended as a font of arcane medical information. Anyone seeking a transplant of goat testes or a radium filled jock strap will now know where to begin. And it will make the perfect gift for that arrogant and conceited physician and surgeon who we all seem to have encountered.

J. Kemper Campbell M.D. is a retired Lincoln ophthalmologist who practiced medicine for 50 years using the old medical maxim, “First do no harm”.


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