A well-drawn, comprehensive account of a troubling subject.

THE PURSUIT OF OBLIVION

A GLOBAL HISTORY OF NARCOTICS

A British historian trains an eye on the vast history of human experience with illicit drugs.

Beginning roughly in the 18th century, the author relates how opium, cocaine, heroin, cannabis, and many other substances that have bedeviled modern society began their once-innocuous trajectories. Most were first used for healing purposes (“Heroin” was the brand name used by Bayer to market a cure to calm respiratory ailments) or as a means of sedation. Marijuana had medical applications; cocaine was distributed to miners and plantation workers in hot climates to maintain their productivity. As the title implies, what all these substances have in common is their ability to transport the user to a more pleasant state of mind. The author views this human desire for peace, serenity, and “paradise” as a natural impulse and rues the fact that since the early 20th century it has instead been defined as criminal. He points out that prohibition of narcotics arose not from concern for drug use but as a means of criminalizing or marginalizing such specific minorities as youths, blacks, and Asians. Punitive treatment of drug users has not been especially effective, he avers, even though prison sentences for using or supplying drugs remain draconian. Because tough punishments and crackdowns drive up risk and therefore price, they actually end up serving as business incentives for drug suppliers. Davenport-Hines (Gothic, 2000, etc.) offers few specific remedies, although he discusses the example of the Netherlands, where legal, affordable marijuana has reduced dependence on harsher narcotics and addiction-related crime. Making narcotics similar to alcohol in availability by restricting children’s access and closely regulating purchases will ultimately be most helpful to individuals and to society as a whole, he argues. But this is not so much a polemic as a compelling sourcebook whose sheer heft of information, supported by the author’s intelligent take on drug history, grants it the power to persuade.

A well-drawn, comprehensive account of a troubling subject.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-393-05189-7

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2002

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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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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

TOMBSTONE

THE EARP BROTHERS, DOC HOLLIDAY, AND THE VENDETTA RIDE FROM HELL

Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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