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by Richard Davenport-Hines
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Politics & Government
  • Author:
    Richard Davenport-Hines
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  • Publisher:
    Weidenfeld & Nicolson (October 11, 2001)
  • Pages:
    466 pages
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    Politics & Government
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Richard Davenport-Hines is the recipient of the Wolfson Prize for History and a fellow of the Royal Historical Society

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.

The Pursuit of Oblivion book. Richard Davenport-Hines, an eminent, prize-winning historian, uncovers the central Spanning five centuries and several continents in a sweeping portrait of addiction, The Pursuit of Oblivion traces the history of the use and abuse of narcotics, revealing their subtle transformation from untested medicines to sources of idle pleasure and, relatively recently, to illegal substances.

The Pursuit of Oblivion: A Global History of Narcotics 1500-2000 Richard Davenport-Hines (Phoenix Press, £. . 9). Oh God, not another book about drugs.

The Pursuit of Oblivion. by. Richard Davenport-Hines.

Richard Davenport-Hines (born 21 June 1953 in London) is a noted British historian and literary biographer, best known for his biography of the poet W. H. Auden. Davenport-Hines is also an expert on the famous Cambridge economist John Maynard Keynes. He was educated at St Paul's School, London and Selwyn College, Cambridge. Davenport-Hines has published more than twenty books and essays on a variety of historical, political, and philosophical topics over the course of his career.

Spanning five centuries and several continents in a sweeping portrait of addiction, The Pursuit of Oblivion traces the history of the use and abuse of narcotics, revealing their subtle transformation from untested medicines to sources of idle pleasure and, relatively recently, to illegal substances.

Richard Davenport-Hines (born 1953) is a British writer, best known for his biography of the poet W. He has taught at the London School of Economics, and began writing business history. He was the 1985 winner of the Wolfson Prize for History and Biography. He has also written on the history of the Gothic. He is a member of the Athenaeum Club in London. Mr Davenport-Hines' son recently died at the age of 21. Works.

Richard Davenport-Hines examines how licit medicines developed into a huge illegal business. Drawing on evidence from different continents and cultures across five centuries, this book offers a sharply opinionated history of drugs. It might be better to take the long view, and this is what Richard Davenport-Hines has done in The Pursuit of Oblivion: A Global History of Narcotics (W. W. Norton), a weighty volume that demonstrates that such wars have never been won in free societies, and have been waged at larger harm to their societies than the drugs themselves.

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Everyone with any influence on government policy should read this book and wake up before it is too late' Phillip Knightley, SUNDAY TIMES.

Davenport-Hines landmark book draws on a dazzlingly wide range of sources to show how narcotics such as opium, morphine, cannabis, heroin, cocaine, amphetamine, LSD and ecstasy came to have such an impact on Western society and how, in turn, that society has attempted to cope with the arrival of each.

Although it should become the standard account of the subject, this book is no dry academic tome: Davenport-Hines is one of the great historical story tellers and The Pursuit of Oblivion, though serious in purpose, contains a dazzling array of strange, amusing and macabre stories. It reveals the intimate drug habits of Sir Christopher Wren, Sir Walter Scott, Dickens, Gladstone, Freud, George IV, Queen Victoria, Marilyn Monroe, W. H. Auden and Anthony Eden (to name just a few); the role of enterprises such as the East India Company and Glaxo in distributing drugs (especially opiates); the part played by war in expanding drug use; the origins of the different policies of Britain and the United States, Holland and Switzerland, Thailand and Indonesia; the routes by which narcotics are transported around the world (including a brilliant account of the murderous career of the Colombian cocaine warlord, Pablo Escobar); and the evolution of attitudes towards, and taboos about, illicit substances. Spanning centuries, continents and empires, wars and revolutions, immigrants and aristocrats, The Pursuit of Oblivion neither celebrates nor condemns the use of narcotics. It concludes with an assessment of why, despite increasingly harsh sanctions, illegal drug use continues to increase and considers where law-makers go from here.

Great read!! Highly informative in a playful interesting way!
THE PURSUIT OF OBLIVION is a well-written, deeply researched history of drugs, their use, the emotional extremes drug use has created in individuals and cultures over the past 500 years, and the ineffective efforts to control it.
Using drugs to induce euphoria, reduce anxiety, control pain, increase physical and mental energy, and alter perceptions are, according to the author, natural activities in human experience. Richard Davenport-Hines, a highly regarded historian claims prohibition of illicit substances is a bad idea. He argues that craving the drug is what drives users to criminal behavior and if the illegal supply of drugs was legalized and made available there would be no need for the expensive and ineffective strategies of enforced abstinence and the punitive treatment of users.
Whether you agree with legalization or not, the history of drug-taking over the last 500 years is fascinating. His presentation of the material and the provocative argument against prohibition will create a variety of reactions. It will anger those who believe drug use is a moral plague attacking and destroying society. It will please those who require rationalization for legalization and are exhausted by the futility of the ineffective strategies in the War on Drugs and "Just Say No" campaign.
Regardless of how you feel about legalization, if you wonder about drug use, its origins, its effects on individuals and societies, its manufacture, marketing, and distribution, you will be enthralled with THE PURSUIT OF OBLIVION. It is Highly Recommended.
This 498 page compendium of stories that go back thousands of years (to Sumer), detail in extraordinary (sometimes stifling) detail, mankinds continuous love hate relationship with intoxication. Be it with narcotics, hypnotics, stimulants, inebriants, or hallucinogens, mankind, for good or ill, loves to get f***'ed up.

Hate that fact, or appreciate it; regardless, the global illicit market for narcotics is nearly half a trillion dollars and growing. Growing despite centuries of government regulation, and, more recently, decades of intense global conflict.

Richard Davenport-Hines makes a powerful argument against the war on drugs, but he doesn't do it like so many authors of that thought genre, who, between tokes, rant and rave about the plight of users, or the unfair religious influence on "modern" policy (no dig on them intended, that was my best attempt at humor now that all my malt balls are gone and it's 3am)... Instead, the author makes a factual case, drawing in statistics that demonstrate clearly how ineffective public money is spent combating drug use. The stats used aren't homogeneous to the US, many extensive statistics are used from our more experimental neighbors across the Atlantic.

Like many, I believe this book could have been condensed considerably without losing its argumentative efficacy. However, there were more than enough compelling stats and human stories to keep me engaged. Among them, stories of the founding of Coca Cola, or the first western experimentors with Cannibus, or the lengths some have gone to stay intoxicated...fascinating stuff.

If you have a particular interest in understanding the relationship between man, drugs, government, and the societal impacts of interrelationship between them, then run and get this book. If however, you have a more casual interest, and would like to sharpen your argument for or against the war on drugs, walk to get this book, and skip chapters 2-5.


Christian Hunter

Santa Barbara, California
Several people have taken exception to the author's call for a cease to the prohibition of drugs. It's rather absurd to argue the point the the money organized crime pulls out of drugs is a small factor in their power. This is simply emotionalism and ignorance. Anyone familiar with the five Mob families of New York? Like the more respectables, uh, say the Kennedy family? Who are also prodigious users. All made their fortunes on the most devious prohibited drug of all :alcohol. Of course, the criminals would still have [...] and prostitution, but those vices involve keeping people (i.e Victims) involved all the time, thus making them less desirable and less profitable than relatively clean drug sales. In fact, it's often the drugs that keeps prostitutes obedient. There's too much real evil in this world to waste our resources trying to stop people from doing what the want in their own homes. The only government that EVER had the slightest success in defeating drugs was the Chinese when the emperor (circa 1900 or so) made using, possessing or selling opium subject to immediate execution. It worked. But we don't have a totalitarian state...yet. Personally Barbara Hodgeson's book on Opium in America is better and more enlightening. (I discovered recently that both of my grandmothers were addicted to legal over-the-counter patent opium medicines in the 1940's) so let's be careful about heaving stones from our glass houses, eh?
This book traces the fascination, profits and uses of various drugs and mind altering substances throughout history. It is especially good with quotations, use of the substances during various time periods, and the social views of useage during those periods.
It is well documented and gives us a real view of the politics and economics of government manipulation of drug use and trafficking, throughout history. I wondered if some of the large drug companies, who are presented as the chemical inventors of some of our most dreadful drugs, should have some responsibility for the state of drug useage today -- this author names names.
I found the early chapters to really be history and sometimes lacking in read-appeal. Later chapters reveal something of the author's personal views on solutions, the War on Drugs, which he calls a "war on drug users" and his disgust with the failed policies of this nation and Britain. Altogether a good book, but it took me a while to read.