cover image If It Sounds Like a Quack...: A Journey to the Fringes of American Medicine

If It Sounds Like a Quack...: A Journey to the Fringes of American Medicine

Matthew Hongoltz-Hetling. PublicAffairs, $29 (336p) ISBN 978-1-5417-8887-9

In this blistering survey, journalist Hongoltz-Hetling (A Libertarian Walks into a Bear) explores the “world of science-lite health care, its origins, and how, between 2000 and 2020, it changed the face of America.” In novelistic detail, Hongoltz-Hetling chronicles the lives and careers of nine alternative medicine purveyors, including a failed Montana gubernatorial candidate who tangled with the FDA over supplements he had developed to cure his mother’s cancer and a South Dakota dentist who claimed to have invented a laser capable of harnessing “universal healing light” to remedy any ailment. The profiles highlight the individuals’ predictable eccentricities (Alicja Kolyszko, a proponent of leeches, goes by “Dr. A-Leech-A”), but the author also excels at teasing out the sometimes tragic undertones: Leilani and Dale Neumann—founders of a Pentecostal ministry and “confident that prayer, not medical science, was the One True Cure”—suffered the death of their 11-year-old daughter from untreated diabetes after prayer failed to save her, leading to the couple’s conviction for reckless homicide. By turns humorous, enraging, and heartbreaking, the vivid stories drive home the stakes and consequences of hawking unproven treatments, though it feels like a missed opportunity that Hongoltz-Hetling doesn’t address the larger social forces behind the rise of quack medicine. Still, this proves a powerful antidote to medical disinformation. (Apr.)