The Pursuit of Oblivion: A Global History of Narcotics

by R. P. T. Davenport-Hines (Author), Richard Davenport-Hines (Author)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly
Davenport-Hines offers a sharply opinionated history of drugs structured around
three major premises: Human beings use drugs; for many that choice will be
debilitating, sometimes fatal; and government prohibition of drugs, as opposed
to regulation, is counterproductive and doomed to vainglorious failure.
Davenport-Hines, a fellow of the Royal Historical Society and author of a
well-received work on W.H. Auden, builds his case with a body of evidence
encyclopedic in scope and varied in perspective. He explores the effects of
drugs on families and private lives, for example, by sampling diaries of
ordinary citizens, the writings of literary figures as diverse as Balzac and Ken
Kesey, the theories of notorious cult-leader Timothy Leary, and the reports of a
host of journalists. He is equally focused on exposing the high public costs
that, he argues, have resulted from governments' treatment of drugs (both in
American and elsewhere) as a criminal rather than medical problem a choice that,
the author says, is a product of political demagoguery rather than honest
conviction. To give credence to his charges, he quotes the inflammatory words of
presidents, drug czars, and moralist such as William Bennett. U.S. policymakers
exported this punitive approach to Europe and Latin America, which he deems a
form of cultural imperialism. Davenport-Hines also finds hypocrisy in government
support for pharmaceutical companies, whose advertising and marketing contribute
to the cultural acceptance of drugs. He takes care to provide readers with
useful information about the effects of both legal and illegal drugs, and to
carefully discriminate among the relative dangers of different classes of drugs.
The effort adds credibility to his strong writing, and his well-documented
positions will be difficult to dismiss.

From Library Journal
Prominent British historian/journalist Davenport-Hines here offers a thorough
and exhaustive history of addictive drugs and their abuse, spanning the globe
and covering all eras for which there exists documented evidence of such
activity, primarily from the 18th century forward. The author's approach is that
of a historian at work, carefully detailing all known verifiable references to
the insidious development of, trade in, and use/abuse of narcotics and other
addictive substances. In addition to a thorough discourse on the manufacture and
abuse of derivative drugs such as cocaine and heroin, Davenport-Hines also goes
into great detail about naturally occurring herbs and weeds that have been
abused over the centuries. He pays considerable attention to attempts by
governments and world bodies to come to grips with the social, economic, and
political ramifications of the drug trade and its side effects, such as
organized crime, loss of government revenue, decreased productivity, and strains
on healthcare infrastructures. The reluctance or inability of several powerful
Western nations to suppress the popular appetite for drugs (only recently
considered inappropriate) is cited as perhaps the greatest impediment to reform.
Society's attempts over the years to treat and rehabilitate the victims of drug
abuse are also documented. This comprehensive study is replete with references
to primary and secondary sources. Highly recommended for academic and public
libraries. Philip Y. Blue, New York State Supreme Court Criminal Branch Law
Lib., First Judicial District, New York

Product Details

Paperback: 584 pages
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (March 2004)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0393325458



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