The Smoke of the Gods: A Social History of Tobacco

The Smoke of the Gods: A Social History of Tobacco

The Smoke of the Gods: A Social History of Tobacco

The Smoke of the Gods: A Social History of Tobacco

Synopsis

Eric Burns, who chronicled the social history of alcohol in The Spirits of America turns to tobacco in The Smoke of the Gods. Ranging from ancient times to the present day, The Smoke of the Gods is a lively history of tobacco, especially in the United States. Although tobacco use is controversial in the U. S. today, Burns reminds us that this was not always the case. For centuries tobacco was generally thought to have medicinal and even spiritual value. Most of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were tobacco users or growers, or both. According to Burns, tobacco changed the very course of U. S. history, because its discovery caused the British to support Jamestown, its struggling New World colony. An entertaining and informative look at a subject that makes daily news headlines, The Smoke of the Gods is a history that is, well, quite addictive.

Excerpt

Imagine yourself a Maya. You are short, muscular, and well conditioned; your skin is dark, and your hair is long and unruly. You live in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico more than 1,500 years ago, surrounded by forest and warmed by a sun that is almost always set to low-bake. You raise crops and kill animals, trade pelts and build roads, play a primitive version of basketball, and dance to the rhythms of impromptu percussion. Your house is a hut with mud-covered walls and a roof of palm leaves.

You have filed your teeth until the tips are sharp. You have not only pierced your ears but stretched them far beyond nature's intent by wedging ever larger plugs into the holes in the lobes; they are now the size of small pancakes. There is a tattoo of the sun on your forearm and of a mountain peak on your shoulder; other tattoos, in other locations, are merely designs, representing your own notions of beauty and symmetry rather than the shapes of nature. Because your parents held a small piece of coal tar at the bridge of your nose when you were an infant and forced you to focus on it, your eyes are crossed in a most becoming manner, reminiscent of the sun god. You also have you parents to thank for the rakish slope of your forehead; while your mother showed you the coal tar, your father was angling a piece of wood onto the top of your face and pressing down as hard as he could for as long as he could, this so that your still plaint skull would be streamlined according to the day's fashion. Cosmetic surgery, pre-Columbian style.

On special occasions you paint yourself red. You decorate your clothes with feathers plucked from birds that have been specially bred for the extravagance of their plumage. You hang tiny obsidian mirrors from your hair, and they tinkle as you walk, catching the sun. The ring in your nose also catches the sun. So do your beetle-wing necklace and the pieces of jade in those overgrown . . .

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