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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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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The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

THE LAWS OF HUMAN NATURE

A follow-on to the author’s garbled but popular 48 Laws of Power, promising that readers will learn how to win friends and influence people, to say nothing of outfoxing all those “toxic types” out in the world.

Greene (Mastery, 2012, etc.) begins with a big sell, averring that his book “is designed to immerse you in all aspects of human behavior and illuminate its root causes.” To gauge by this fat compendium, human behavior is mostly rotten, a presumption that fits with the author’s neo-Machiavellian program of self-validation and eventual strategic supremacy. The author works to formula: First, state a “law,” such as “confront your dark side” or “know your limits,” the latter of which seems pale compared to the Delphic oracle’s “nothing in excess.” Next, elaborate on that law with what might seem to be as plain as day: “Losing contact with reality, we make irrational decisions. That is why our success often does not last.” One imagines there might be other reasons for the evanescence of glory, but there you go. Finally, spin out a long tutelary yarn, seemingly the longer the better, to shore up the truism—in this case, the cometary rise and fall of one-time Disney CEO Michael Eisner, with the warning, “his fate could easily be yours, albeit most likely on a smaller scale,” which ranks right up there with the fortuneteller’s “I sense that someone you know has died" in orders of probability. It’s enough to inspire a new law: Beware of those who spend too much time telling you what you already know, even when it’s dressed up in fresh-sounding terms. “Continually mix the visceral with the analytic” is the language of a consultant’s report, more important-sounding than “go with your gut but use your head, too.”

The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-42814-5

Page Count: 580

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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