A sweeping, panoramic history of opium and its deep roots in a vast array of societies and cultures.
Inglis (Crow Mountain, 2016, etc.) opens with an observation from Thomas Jefferson, who noted, “merchants know no country,” and ends with her own trenchant observation that the war on opium is endless. In between is a story that stretches across 5,000 years of history and touches nearly every part of human civilization. The author begins in the Fertile Crescent and then traces the cultivation of opium through the Bronze Age, the Greek and Roman civilizations (“Homeric references to the opium poppy are concerned with the need for emotional oblivion, but Greek scholars were also discovering its many medicinal properties”), the Renaissance, the disastrous Opium Wars, and the creation of Hong Kong. Inglis’ history is not only wide, but deep due to her keen analysis of how entrenched opium is in modern culture in everything, from medicine to war to addiction to commerce. In the second half of the book, the author covers the isolation of morphine from opium and how new discoveries transformed the West. The third part of the book brings us quickly to today, focusing on the ready availability of professionally produced heroin, the explosion of big pharma, and the markets that have created “Generation Oxy.” If there’s one message to take from this history, it’s that prohibition doesn’t work. As Inglis notes, whether it’s crimes committed by gangsters or strategies rolled out by massive pharmaceutical companies, this gift from the natural world to ease pain and suffering has become a commodity. She ends where she began: “Within all of these parameters, economies are built, both legal and illegal, petty and international. And whether they be sidewalk dope dealers or pharmaceutical giants, merchants know no country, just as the search for even a glimpse of paradise is constant and without end.”
A well-crafted history of civilization seen through the prism of one of the most profitable agricultural products in human history.