Weakness is a Crime: The Life of Bernarr Macfadden

Robert Ernst, Author
Robert Ernst, Author Syracuse University Press $19.95 (278p) ISBN 978-0-8156-0252-1
Reviewed on: 12/01/1990
Release date: 12/01/1990
Bernarr Macfadden was one of the more flamboyant figures of the early 20th century. A self-made man with a gift for showmanship and self-promotion, Macfadden built a multimillion-dollar publishing empire (including True Story magazine) and harbored political ambitions on a grand scale. Single-mindedly devoted to health and fitness, he spent his life and fortune promoting ``physical culture'': a grab bag of half-baked theories about diet, exercise and health. Although some of Macfadden's ideas later gained acceptance--notably, the benefits of regular exercise and moderation in eating--others proved fatal; his oldest son died as a result of Macfadden's refusal to summon medical aid, and his self-prescribed three-day fast probably hastened his own death. Unfortunately, Ernst ( Immigrant Life in New York City ) presents his material by topic rather than chronologically; the result is a lack of coherence. More fundamentally, Ernst fails to make his subject come alive. He offers a series of well-documented anecdotes, but no clue to how a quack like Macfadden came to enjoy the success and the influence that he did. Photos. (Dec.)
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