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Erica’s Pick Of The Week: Quackery

I am convinced that oatmeal raisin cookies have magical healing powers. No matter what ill befalls me, a nice cup of tea and a plateful of freshly baked oatmeal raisin cookies can be counted on to set things right, including headaches, fevers, and parenting-induced hypertension.


While the medical community has yet to weigh in on my oatmeal raisin obsession, the recent book Quackery: A Brief History Of The Worst Ways To Cure Everything has plenty to say about other unconventional treatments that science has come up with over the years. From electrified baths (bad idea) to strychnine energy drinks (really bad idea), Quackery highlights a variety of  gruesome and dangerous treatments once championed as cure-alls. Some, like giving children opium for teething pain, have been thoroughly discredited. Others, such as using leeches to relieve post-surgery swelling, still have a place in the medical arsenal today.

Happily, Quackery does more than just shock the reader: in each case, the authors take care to trace the often-faulty reasoning behind these treatments, as well as the ways in which frauds were exposed or common sense prevailed. Humans are desperate to feel better, and Quackery highlights all the ways in which we allow ourselves to be deceived.

Throughout the book, Dr. Lydia Kang and Nate Pedersen, the co-authors, have a wry, darkly funny tone. They don’t skimp on the sometimes horrific details of these so-called cures, and the result is that it’s easy to find yourself laughing and cringing in the same sentence, especially when you read some of the vintage advertisements included in the book. It’s a fascinating, engaging read, and you’ll feel compelled to share all sorts of tidbits with a friend — though perhaps not over dinner.  It’s also a great title for any science-loving teen or medical professional in your life, as well as anyone who enjoys slightly unconventional nonfiction.

Kang, the author of several novels, is also a physician, and you can hear her speak more about Quackery on NPR’s Weekend Edition. Even better, you can see her in person! She’ll be speaking as part of our Authors Out Loud program on Thursday, January 25 at 7pm, at our Cook Park location. Register here, or call our welcome desk at (847) 362-2330.

Just don’t ask her about the cookies, okay?


Categories: Books and More

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