Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

The Pursuit of Oblivion: A Global History of Narcotics

Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

The Pursuit of Oblivion: A Global History of Narcotics

Article excerpt

The Pursuit of Oblivion: A Global History of Narcotics, by Richard Davenport-Hines.

Although described several times by the author as a history of narcotics (by which term he includes not only opiates, but stimulants like cocaine, hallucinogens like marijuana, and hypnotics like chloral), this book is, in fact, less a historical survey than a massive catalogue of historical examples which serves to illustrate the manufacture, distribution, and use and misuse of these drugs through brief descriptions of the lives of the people concerned. It ranges from De Quincey to Freud to Ginsberg but deals chiefly with the medical and social problems in the 19th and 20th centuries. This is obviously the result of a major effort to discover and organize a vast amount of information on the subject, and it is accomplished with authority and flair. Indeed, what might easily have been dull and laborious reading in the official publications has been made interesting and often provocative by a constant parade of men and women whose lives were in some way changed for better or for worse by the drugs they took. …

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