Marketplace of the Marvelous: The Strange Origins of Modern Medicine


Despite rampant scientific innovation in nineteenth-century America, traditional medicine still adhered to ancient healing methods such as induced vomiting and bleeding, blistering, and sweating patients. Facing such horrors, many patients ran with open arms to burgeoning practices promising new ways to cure their ills: Hydropaths promised cures using “healing tubs.” Franz Anton Mesmer applied magnets to a patient’s body, while Daniel David Palmer restored a man’s hearing by knocking on his vertebrae. Phrenologists emerged, claiming the topography of one’s skull could reveal the intricacies of one’s character. Bizarre as these methods may seem, many are the predecessors of today’s notions of health. We have the nineteenth-century practice of “medical gymnastics” to thank for today’s emphasis on daily exercise, and hydropathy’s various water cures gave us the notion of showers and the mantra of “eight glasses of water a day.” These early medical “deviants,” including women who had been barred from the patriarchy of “legitimate doctoring,” raised questions and posed challenges to established ideas, and though the fads faded and many were discredited by the scientific revolution, some ideas behind the quackery are staples in today’s health industry.  Janik tells the colorful stories of these “quacks,” whose shams, foils, or genuine wish to heal helped shape and influence modern medicine.


Praise for Marketplace of the Marvelous:

“A must-read for medical history buffs, whether mainstream or maverick.” —Publishers Weekly

“A thorough, informative history of the many eccentric narratives that make these quack sciences so interesting and important to modern medicine.” –Kirkus Reviews

“Erika Janik writes extraordinarily well. She has taken the time to research her subject thoroughly and provides copious documenting footnotes and references, while at the same time she has a keen sense of humor that places all of this information in perspective. Brilliantly written and thunderously appealing, this is a book every doctor should be required to read, and everyone concerned about the rise of today’s machine driven medicine should own. The book will make you laugh and will also raise an eyebrow and utter a gasp. Very highly recommended for everyone.” – Grady Harp, Vine Voice/Amazon

“Astronomy was preceded by Astrology. Modern medical science was preceded by  snake oil and homeopathy.  Janik tells a compelling story, in graceful prose, of what happens when error, greed and fashion  rule the marketplace of medical ideas. What Lewis Thomas called ‘The Youngest Science’—medicine based on cell and molecular biology—is young, indeed; and this fine book reminds us of how far we have come.” Gerald Weissmann, MD, author of Epigenetics in the Age of Twitter

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