Illness, NetGalley, Non-fiction, Trivia

The Shameful Bit of Medicine History? Quackery by Lydia Kang and Nate Pedersen

Most of us dread a trip to the doctor’s office. I know I do! But have you ever thought how nice it actually is to go to one and, well, not have to fear heavy metal poisoning? Or… not have to lose a pint of blood to purge you?

Yeah, when I think about it, it’s definitely good that the 21st century is the way it is, even if our medical systems are not perfect (I hear you.) But medicine hasn’t always been like it is today. And this book will tell you how it was before it was like it is today.

I love receiving ARCs, but the saddest bit about having this one was that it was electronic, and I longed for nothing more than to actually have a beautiful print copy on my coffee table, to be able to flick through it and read up on the hilarious/ scary/ icky medicinal history whenever I wanted to. This is just one of those books you don’t read in one sitting – it’s one of the books you find on your grandpa’s shelf when you’re visiting, when you’re little, and you peer into the world it tells you about little bit little, bit by bit, because you’re too afraid to peek for too long, but too curious to let it go, and too worried you’ll run out of the book if you read it properly.

Quackery is organized like one of those trivia books – it doesn’t follow a particular storyline, but is focused on the different types of quackery that’s been attempted to sell and successfully sold to people in the history of the known world. Examples follow:

  • Antimony puke chalices
  • Radium jockstraps
  • Arsenic wallpapers
  • Strychnine potency drugs
  • Cocaine toothache drops for kids
  • And let’s not forget the famous snake oil

You’d be surprised at all of the disgusting, weird and utterly stupid things people have done throughout history to cure their ails. I am simply unable to tell you the extent of it, and I feel like I don’t have to – that’s what this book is for. It’s creepy, it’s colorful, it’s got great graphics, it’s got amazing trivia. What’s more, it’s not some boring history book either! It’s written in a very engaging and witty style, so you will never be bored. I do recommend it to everyone, even to the squeamish (that’s me!) There might be a few chapters you skip because of this, but if you’re as curious as I am – you will definitely enjoy it.

I thank Lydia Kang, Nate Pedersen and Workman Publishing Company for giving me a free copy of this book in exchange to my honest opinion. You can purchase a print copy here on Book Depository, and if you buy it from my link, you also support my blog.

Are you spooked by reading about illnesses and medicine in the middle ages?

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Karen Blue

This book sounds fun. Even though I work in the medical field, we are still just “practicing” medicine. Some things we were doing just a few years ago seem crazy today, and vice versa. Thanks for sharing this!

Grab the Lapels

I’m not spooked by reading old medical practices, I’m freaked out by the fact that things I was told as a kid or had done to me are NO LONGER DONE. That’s how fast medical office changes!

Laura Thomas

The practice of medicine is fun to read about. This makes me think of when they used leeches to clean your blood and grub worms to clean a wound.

Sim @Flipping Thru the Pages

Nice review Evelina. I think I just saw it on NetGalley and I am going to request it 😀 You reviews just make me want to read more non-fiction :p

Dragonfly @ Our Familiarium
Dragonfly @ Our Familiarium

this is one topic I’ve always been obsessed with. Things we have done to ourselves and called “Medicine” and I’m sure our times will be called “the dark ages” as well especially around cancer treatment. Nothing like the side effects of chemo and radiation!

bermudaonion (Kathy)

Yikes, my mom has no thyroid function because they thought radiating it would help her hearing back in the 40s. I bet this book is fascinating.


“But have you ever thought how nice it actually is to go to one and, well, not have to fear heavy metal poisoning? Or… not have to lose a pint of blood to purge you?” No. But I will now! I see my doctor a lot (way more than I like), and I do sometimes marvel at all the things they can find out now; and all the vaccines you can get. There’s always new medications to try and new ways of treating illnesses. And the other week, I had an iron infusion. A few years ago they used to… Read more »


[…] week we had a random assortment of posts. One was a review for Quackery, a fun jumble of a book about everything that was notorious in medicine from the very earliest […]

Lashaan Balasingam

I can’t imagine all the weird things people did to cure their illnesses. This does sound like it has some fun content, and that it is presented in a fun and digestible (oooof, not sure if I should be using such words here hahaha) way. I however don’t know if I’d put this on my coffee table though hahaha Great review! Thanks for sharing this. It’s definitely not something I see around the blogosphere. For sure! 😀


[…] Out of these, I would say my favorites are Weaver’s Lament and Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet. I have not reviewed Magic yet, but I will soon – it was a wonderful story involving fairytales and loads of cake. This month you’ll also be seeing the review for Diamond Age for SciFi Month 2017. Sweet Bean Paste as an endearing tale of friendship (…and also cake) which I’ll review in a few weeks too. Most of you will probably have already read the review for Quackery. […]