Gyles Brandreth tells the story of how his ancestor made a fortune and invented modern marketing, while apparently curing all of America's ills.
This is a story that takes us from Liverpool docks in the 1830s to New York in the 1880s, with a cast that includes hucksters, quacks, politicians, millionaires, the pioneers of modern America and the founders of tabloid journalism and modern advertising.
In 1835, Gyles's great-great-great-grandfather, Benjamin Holmes, left Liverpool for New York.
He was 25, had three children and not much capital.
But by the time of his death in 1887 he had changed his name to Benjamin Brandreth, was a New York senator, a leading banker, the owner of one of New York's biggest hotels and one of the richest men in America, after making a fortune with his Brandreth's Vegetable Pills, which reputedly cured everything.
They were sold into the mass market on the basis that in two to three months they could help your body purge itself of all diseases by 'purifying the blood'.
In fact, they were an explosively powerful laxative, based on sasparilla and other purgatives.
Brandreth's timing was good.
Americans, then as now, were big eaters, and what they liked was starchy, fried food, without much fruit or veg.
In other words, junk food.
At the same time they were moving from an active rural lifestyle to a sedentary urban one with the result that constipation and indigestion were rampant.
What they needed were Brandreth's Pills.
Within five years, Brandreth had built a big factory at Ossining, he was churning out pills by the million and was earning a fortune - hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
But America was full of quack cure-alls and snake oil salesmen.
What made Brandreth so successful? As one rival wrote, 'Dr Brandreth figures larger in the scale of quackery than all the rest of the fraternity combined.' The answer was that he was the first advertiser to realise the power of the new mass market and the sensational penny press.
In the very month that Brandreth started producing his pills, newspaperman Gordon Bennet founded the New York Herald.
Bennet and Brandreth hit it off.
Before long, Brandreth was by far the Herald's biggest advertiser.
Brandreth's advertising budget was the largest in the country.
With Gordon Bennet, he developed modern mass advertising and branding.
Some say Dr Benjamin Brandreth was a fraud - he wasn't a doctor, Brandreth wasn't his name and his pills did very few of the things he claimed.
Others say he was a genius, who gave comfort to millions and made millions in the process.
The great showman PT Barnum regarded Brandreth as a role model.