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The Strange Case of Dr. Couney

How a Mysterious European Showman Saved Thousands of American Babies
Narrated by: Erin Bennett
Length: 6 hrs and 28 mins
4 out of 5 stars (87 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

"A mosaic mystery told in vignettes, cliffhangers, curious asides, and some surreal plot twists as Raffel investigates the secrets of the man who changed infant care in America.... It's a fascinating historical footnote, compassionately told." (NPR)

A New York Times Book Review New & Noteworthy Title

What kind of doctor puts his patients on display?

This is the spellbinding tale of a mysterious doctor who revolutionized neonatal care more than 100 years ago and saved some 7,000 babies. Dr. Martin Couney's story is a kaleidoscopic ride through the intersection of ebullient entrepreneurship, enlightened pediatric care, and the wild culture of world's fairs at the beginning of the American Century.

As Dawn Raffel recounts, Dr. Couney used incubators and careful nursing to keep previously doomed infants alive while displaying these babies alongside sword swallowers, bearded ladies, and burlesque shows at Coney Island, Atlantic City, and venues across the nation. How this turn-of-the-20th-century emigre became the savior to families with premature infants - known then as "weaklings" - as he ignored the scorn of the medical establishment and fought the rising popularity of eugenics is one of the most astounding stories of modern medicine. Dr. Couney, for all his entrepreneurial gusto, is a surprisingly appealing character, someone who genuinely cared for the well-being of his tiny patients. But he had something to hide....

Drawing on historical documents, original reportage, and interviews with surviving patients, Dawn Raffel tells the marvelously eccentric story of Couney's mysterious carnival career, his larger-than-life personality, and his unprecedented success as the savior of the fragile wonders that are tiny, tiny babies.  

©2018 Dawn Raffel (P)2018 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

"Fascinating, mysterious and compelling...written with great style and the energy of a can't-put-down thriller." (The Chicago Tribune)

“In this account, told in a series of non-chronological vignettes, Raffel argues that Couney deserves recognition.... Working in the shadow of the eugenics movement, [Couney] insisted that such infants, whom hospitals could seldom save, deserved a chance.” (The New Yorker

Editorial Review

A fascinating tale with a side(show) of science

Being from Brooklyn, I’ve been going to Coney Island my whole life, and I think I can trace at least some of my fascination with the macabre back to the sideshow advertisements I’d pass by on the way to the beach, games, and rides. So I was instantly drawn into this tale of Dr. Martin Couney (not his real name), an enigmatic, self-proclaimed doctor (another dubious claim) who saved thousands of premature infants via incubation in the sideshows of Coney Island, long before such life-saving technology was employed in actual hospitals. Author Dawn Raffel mingles science, mystery, humor, and biography, painting a portrait of Dr. Couney that is at once morally complex, often sympathetic, and unyieldingly fascinating. Erin Bennet’s performance places you among the bright lights, colors, and sounds of the exhibitions where this stranger-than-fiction story takes place, expertly channeling the author’s witty tone. —Sam D., Audible Editor

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Beautiful.Baby Story

So much learned about how people embraced the sacredness of life, the will of the hu.an spirit.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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What a slice of history!,

So glad to have seen introduced to Ckuey! What an usual hero. who faced slander, fired., the com.on belief in eugenics t. Yet Couney parserveref and sa ed countless premied.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Amazing

I can’t say enough how amazing this story was.
Not being familiar with the locations mentioned in the book, it was a little difficult to visualize. Still, if authentic, it was truly fascinating.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Fascinating

I thoroughly enjoyed this book! Couldn’t stop listening or talking to my friends about it.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Fascinating

Husband and I both enjoyed this audible selection immensely. Will share w/ others. Thank yih

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Dr. Couney has rewards in heaven.

What a Brave Hero. This book is a beautiful tribute to a man who saved so many lives. I will read it again.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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What a fantastic story

This is a fantastic story I got wind of it on a podcast and just had to hear more. I found the book a bit scattered and lacking of details, but the basic story of Couney and the incubators really carry what the author lacks. The challenge for the author would be the total lack information about the mysterious Couney. Overall it’s an interesting slice of Americana and An enjoyable book.

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I wanted to learn something I didn't know

I'm a very curious person. So when I read something that pique's my interest....like the beginning of incubators at the Worlds Fair and not in hospitals.....I was interested. I listened with interest for about 1/3 of the way in but the story of the elephant that was so cruelly killed was just over the top for me to listen to. I am not usually overly sensitive about such things but this was just a bit too detailed so I shut it down. Ruined the book for me.

2 of 5 people found this review helpful