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CHASING THE SCREAM

THE FIRST AND LAST DAYS OF THE WAR ON DRUGS

A compassionate and humane argument to overturn draconian drug policies.

Award-winning journalist Hari’s multistrand examination of the war on drugs, spanning 100 years from inception to the present day.

Through a smattering of narratives, the author looks at the centennial of the war on drugs from the time it was legislated with the passage of the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act in 1914. Blending sociology, history and reportage with novelistic detail, Hari uses the narratives of the first American drug czar Harry Anslinger, jazz singer and addict Billie Holiday, and drug-dealing gangster Arnold Rothstein as archetypes to point out how the war continually perpetuates itself with shocking intensity and contradiction. The author is a sharp judge of character, and he wisely notes that the underlying reason for drug prohibition was not an altruistic desire to protect people from harmful and addictive chemical substances but rather fear “that the blacks, Mexicans, and Chinese were using these chemicals, forgetting their place, and menacing white people.” It certainly seems that the primary goal of the war was to repress minorities and solidify white dominance, and little has changed in the past 100 years. Racial discrimination continues to dominate discussions of the drug war’s effectiveness; a majority of nonviolent drug offenders are black, yet statistics show that drug use across races is equal. Alarming, though well-known statistics such as this are peppered throughout the many profiles Hari shares from his travels around the world to experience the repercussions of the drug war firsthand. While the author harangues the singularly negative consequences of drug prohibition, he discusses the case of Portugal, where all drugs have been decriminalized since 2001; there, the average drug use is now lower than any rate in Europe. It is one of the few glimmers of hope, alongside movements to legalize marijuana, in a worldwide war whose fight should not be against drugs but for humanity in general.

A compassionate and humane argument to overturn draconian drug policies.

Pub Date: Jan. 20, 2015

ISBN: 978-1620408902

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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