Opium – a history – Martin Booth

“A drug is neither moral nor immoral–it’s a chemical compound. The compound itself is not a menace to society until a human being treats it as if consumption bestowed a temporary license to act like an asshole.” – Frank Zappa

Opium: A History provides a comprehensive look at the drug as it’s been used, abused, fought over, and profited from. In all likelihood, one of the first medicinal drugs known to mankind, opium and its derivatives have eased and caused suffering in almost equal measure, a fact that the Booth takes pains to point out.

Booth’s book traces opium’s history from the first evidence of poppy cultivation (possibly as early as 4,000 B.C.) to the drug wars of today, exploring its uses in different cultures, its roles in British and Chinese political affairs, its use by artists and musicians, and its horrifying ramifications for addicts.

The book is filled with striking images and surprising facts–for instance, opium-addicted Victorian children, fed “soothing syrups” by minders to keep them quiet. Undernourished, yellow-skinned, in the words of one contemporary observer, they “shrank up into little old men or wizened like a little monkey.” In the end, Booth finds few answers to the problems posed by the opium trade-a scourge he says has “destroyed millions of lives, enslaved whole cultures and invidiously corrupted human society to its very core.” In writing this exhaustively researched history, however, Booth brings us that much closer to understanding-and thereby conquering-the most tenacious of human addictions.

Booth gives his readers a very well-researched and fascinating look at the seductive flower whose pharmacological properties came to mean all things to all men: poets, farmers, soldiers, doctors, murderers, terrorists, kings and cancer patients.

Opium - a history - Martin Booth

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