Smoking has an awfully lousy image these days, from its health implications (cigarette smoking causes nearly 1 in 5 deaths in the U.S. each year, according to the CDC) to the way it stinks up people’s cars.
Still, there were even worse aspects to smoking not so long ago, according to a recently published book.
“Literally blowing smoke up someone’s (fanny) was a sanctioned resuscitation method in the eighteenth century,” Dr. Lydia Kang and Nate Pedersen write in “Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything.” What’s more, the “cure,” which was all the rage for use on drowning victims for a while, could prove doubly deadly.
“If your victim had cholera, for example, then you’d be a goner too, by virtue of sucking down cholera bacteria.”
Yuck, most readers likely will find themselves thinking. And …
Please, tell us more!
Kang, a practicing internal medicine physician in Omaha, will discuss “Quackery” at 11:15 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 1, at Marriott Conference Center B as part of the AJC Decatur Book Festival. The book, an arsenic-to-radon — with stops along the way at things like leeches and, shudder, “corpse medicine” — overview of treatments throughout time, definitely lives up to its title.
Or is that down? “Quackery” presents a rogues gallery of characters who likely knew — or should have known — that their so-called cures were full of hot air. Literally, in one case: The founder of the “Breatharian Institute of America” was a “charismatic charlatan,” who “claimed to eat only when there was no fresh air to breathe, or when he couldn’t get enough sunshine.” (Spoiler alert: Someone caught him coming out of a 7-Eleven clutching “a Twinkie, a Slurpee and a hot dog.”)
Yet deep within some past quackeries lie the seeds of some modern-day medicine. Bad idea: Encouraging people in the early 20th century to ingest radium in drinking water and toothpaste. Better idea: Radiation now is a primary treatment for cancer.
“Behind every misguided treatment … is the incredible power of the human desire to live,” the authors write. “None of today’s medical achievements would have occurred without challenging the status quo.”
AJC Decatur Book Festival. Aug. 31-Sept. 2. Free. Various venues. decaturbookfestival.com.
Keynote: Kenny Leon. 8 p.m. Aug. 31. Sold out. Schwartz Center at Emory University, 1700 N. Decatur Road, Atlanta.
Kidnote: Harry Potter celebration. 5 p.m. Aug. 31. Free but ticket required. Presser Hall at Agnes Scott College, 141 E. College Ave., Decatur.
Street Festival: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sept. 1, noon-6 p.m. Sept. 2, downtown Decatur.
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