A fine account of opium and its misuse, which so far seems to be an insoluble problem.

OPIUM

HOW AN ANCIENT FLOWER SHAPED AND POISONED OUR WORLD

A breezy history of a substance that “is reluctant to give up its secrets” and a somber account of futile efforts to discourage its abuse.

Psychiatrist Halpern and writer Blistein (David's Inferno: My Journey Through the Dark Wood of Depression, 2013, etc.) begin with the bad news. “In 2017,” they write, “47,600 people died of opioid-related overdoses—more than gunshots and car crashes combined…and almost as many as were killed in the entire Vietnam War. The disease is straining our prison system, dividing families, and defying virtually every legislative solution to treat it.” Rewinding the clock, the authors explain that no wild poppy produces as much opioid-rich sap as Papaver somniferum, so it was likely a mutation preserved by prehistoric humans. For millennia, physicians and writers praised its effects, and people consumed it as liberally as many of us take aspirin. Addiction was known and deplored, but opium was legal and cheap, so users usually led normal, productive lives. Many Americans regarded addiction as a moral failure, which was aggravated by the myth that opiate use was a foreign—mainly Chinese—depravity. America’s first anti-drug law was an 1875 San Francisco ordinance making it a misdemeanor “to operate or visit an opium den.” It didn’t work, but activists persisted. In 1922, Congress first legislated severe penalties for possessing or selling illegal narcotics. This was also a failure, but it was not a national issue because addiction seemed confined to nonwhite races. Matters changed with the 1960s and an explosion of drug use among whites. The U.S. has spent more than $1 trillion fighting the Richard Nixon–initiated war on drugs. Ironically, the traditional opiate villain, heroin, is becoming scarce as superpowerful, synthetic narcotics—e.g., Fentanyl—are replacing natural opiates, leading to the current addiction epidemic. Straining for optimism, the authors describe scientific advances and a change in our moral disapproval of addiction, which might help alleviate this disaster.

A fine account of opium and its misuse, which so far seems to be an insoluble problem.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-316-41766-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Hachette

Review Posted Online: June 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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