A valuable but overlong overview of an underappreciated drug crisis.

THE LEAST OF US

TRUE TALES OF AMERICA AND HOPE IN THE AGE OF FENTANYL AND METH

Quinones sounds an alarm about a rapidly spreading form of meth in a follow-up to his award-winning Dreamland.

Buried in this overstuffed book lies an urgent story the author sees as overshadowed by the opioid crisis: the explosive growth of the potentially lethal form of synthetic methamphetamine known as P2P (phenyl-2-propanone). Through extensive but rambling interviews with people ranging from dealers to Drug Enforcement Administration agents, Quinones found that unlike earlier types of meth, made with hard-to-get ephedrine, P2P meth could be more easily made from “legal, cheap, and toxic” chemicals in Mexican labs and shipped north by traffickers. P2P, he learned, could cause intense paranoia and terrifying hallucinations and faster and worse harm than ephedrine-based forms: The new meth “was quickly, intensely damaging people’s brains.” Quinones maps the wreckage nationwide, including that it drew Black dealers to what had been “a working-class white drug.” What he learned is genuinely alarming but embedded in background material on topics that have been extensively covered elsewhere: the neuroscience behind addiction, the pre–P2P shifts from prescription painkillers to heroin to fentanyl, the toll opioids have taken in West Virginia, and the Sackler family’s disastrous stewardship of Purdue Pharma. The author also describes effective community-based responses to the crisis, such as church shelters for homeless addicts and “drug courts” that offer substance abusers an alternative to prison. Quinones concludes that the nation has forsaken “what has made America great” and that “when drug traffickers act like corporations and corporations like drug traffickers, our best defense, perhaps our only defense, lies in bolstering community.” After his account of the corporate missteps of the Sacklers and others, readers may be unpersuaded that the “best defense” might come from hard-hit communities themselves rather than from remedies such as tighter government regulation of rapacious corporations like Purdue Pharma.

A valuable but overlong overview of an underappreciated drug crisis.

Pub Date: Oct. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-63557-435-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: July 18, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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Disingenuous when not willfully oblivious.

SO HELP ME GOD

The former vice president reflects warmly on the president whose followers were encouraged to hang him.

Pence’s calm during the Trump years has been a source of bemusement, especially during the administration’s calamitous demise. In this bulky, oddly uncurious political memoir, Pence suggests the source of his composure is simple: frequent prayer and bottomless patience for politicking. After a relatively speedy recap of his personal and political history in Indiana—born-again Christian, conservative radio host, congressman, governor—he remembers greeting the prospect of serving under Trump with enthusiasm. He “was giving voice to the desperation and frustration caused by decades of government mismanagement,” he writes. Recounting how the Trump-Pence ticket won the White House in 2016, he recalls Trump as a fundamentally hardworking president, albeit one who often shot from the hip. Yet Pence finds Trump’s impulsivity an asset, setting contentious foreign leaders and Democrats off-balance. Soon they settled into good cop–bad cop roles; he was “the gentler voice,” while “it was Trump’s job to bring the thunder.” Throughout, Pence rationalizes and forgives all sorts of thundering. Sniping at John McCain? McCain never really took the time to understand him! Revolving-door staffers? He’s running government like a business! That phone call with Ukraine’s president? Overblown! Downplaying the threat Covid-19 presented in early 2020? Evidence, somehow, of “the leadership that President Trump showed in the early, harrowing days of the pandemic.” But for a second-in-command to such a disruptive figure, Pence dwells little on Trump’s motivations, which makes the story’s climax—Trump’s 2020 election denials and the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection—impossible for him to reconcile. How could such a selfless patriot fall under the sway of bad lawyers and conspiracy theorists? God only knows. Chalk it up to Pence's forgiving nature. In the lengthy acknowledgments he thanks seemingly everybody he’s known personally or politically; but one name’s missing.

Disingenuous when not willfully oblivious.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2022

ISBN: 9781982190330

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2022

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Certain to be controversial, but all the more important for that.

PIRATE ENLIGHTENMENT, OR THE REAL LIBERTALIA

The final book from the longtime activist anthropologist.

In a lively display of up-to-date anthropology, Graeber (1961-2020) offers a behind-the-scenes view of how a skilled researcher extracts knowledge from the slimmest evidence about a long-ago multiethnic society composed of pirates and settled members of existing communities. In this posthumous book, the author turns to 17th- and 18th-century Madagascar and examines hard-to-credit sources to tease out some plausible facts about the creation and early life of a distinctive Indian Ocean society, some of whose Malagasy descendants (“the Zana-Malata”) are alive today. Exhibiting his characteristic politically tinged sympathies, Graeber describes the pirates who plied the seas and settled on Madagascar as an ethno-racially integrated proletariat “spearheading the development of new forms of democratic governance.” He also argues that many of the pirates and others displayed European Enlightenment ideas even though they inhabited “a very unlikely home for Enlightenment political experiments.” Malagasies were “Madagascar’s most stubbornly egalitarian peoples,” and, as the author shows, women played significant roles in the society, which reflected Jewish, Muslin, Ismaili, and Gnostic origins as well as native Malagasy and Christian ones. All of this information gives Graeber the chance to wonder, in his most provocative conjecture, whether Enlightenment ideals might have emerged as much beyond Western lands as within them. His argument that pirates, women traders, and community leaders in early 18th-century Madagascar were “global political actors in the fullest sense of the term” is overstated, but even with such excesses taken into account, the text is a tour de force of anthropological scholarship and an important addition to Malagasy history. It’s also a work written with a pleasingly light touch. The principal audience will be anthropologists, but those who love pirate lore or who seek evidence that mixed populations were long capable of establishing proto-democratic societies will also find enlightenment in these pages.

Certain to be controversial, but all the more important for that.

Pub Date: Jan. 24, 2023

ISBN: 978-0-374-61019-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2022

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