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The Pursuit of Oblivion


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About the Author

Richard Davenport-Hines is the recipient of the Wolfson Prize for History and a fellow of the Royal Historical Society. He writes for the New York Times, TLS, Sunday Times, and The Independent. He lives in London.


The author offers a global history of the narcotics industry, which in terms of profits rivals the oil industry. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

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. (Sept.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

"A good read: lively, anecdotal, and written with the reader in mind." -- D.M. Fahey - Choice "Factually detailed and rich in anecdote." -- Boston Phoenix "Accomplished with authority and flair." -- Virginia Quarterly Review "A well-drawn, comprehensive account of a troubling subject." -- Kirkus Reviews "Highly extremely impressive work." -- Christine Keneally - The New York Times "His book is a technical triumph: well researched, well-written, well presented... Moreover, it is convincing." -- Felipe Fernandez-Armesto - The Independent "An impressively researched and exhaustive volume...[that] should be considered definitive." -- San Diego Union Tribune "Pragmatic and persuasive, full of fascinating lore and intelligent interpretation... overwhelming evidence and penetrating analysis." -- Boston Globe "A stern and sustained history...first-rate scholarship...a powerful indictment of mostly failed policy." -- Washington Post "The most important study on this subject in years, perhaps ever." -- Phillip Knightley - Sunday Times [London] "America has exported bad drug policy since the Civil War, the book shows." -- The Week "[A] highly literate and readable author who is thoroughly conversant with the international and intercontinental aspects of drug policy." -- Philip Jenkins, author of Synthetic Panics "An amazing, knock-your-socks-off book, argued with depth and cunning...A stunning and vital book." -- James R. Kincaid, Aerol Arnold Professor of Englis "The best general account of the subject...thoroughly researched and expertly written." -- Roy Porter - Literary Review "Starred Review. A sharply opinionated history of drugs...encyclopedic in scope and varied in perspective...difficult to dismiss." -- Publishers Weekly

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