The Bizarre Careers of John R. Brinkley, by R. Alton Lee...

April 21, 2002|By Michael Pakenham | Michael Pakenham,Editor's Choice

The Bizarre Careers of John R. Brinkley, by R. Alton Lee (University of Kentucky, 312 pages, $29.95).

There may be a few people left alive who remember hearing of Dr. John R. Brinkley, and I am told that in Kansas and parts of Texas there is still talk of the Goat Gland Doctor, his political exploits and his powerful series of radio stations. Now comes Mr. Lee, a serious historian and author, who became captivated by the facts and myths of the man and has produced a very sound and -- to me, anyway -- captivating book. Lee describes Brinkley as "a showman par excellence, brazen, crafty, arrogant, cunning, flamboyant, vain, paranoid, intelligent, and egocentric." But he was admired, adored even, by thousands who believed that his goat-gonad therapies and other quackeries restored their youth, their health and the qualities of their lives. Lee finds that Brinkley, widely known and powerfully influential in the 1920s and 1930s, was a truly significant innovator in popular political and broadcasting techniques -- using them to beat down attempts to curtail his practice and his self-promotional radio stations. A delightful book for lovers of the eccentric and manipulative.

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