79 of 82 people found the following review helpful
on June 16, 2013
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Disclaimer: I know Dr. Hart and had heard some of his story and have been exposed to his research before reading this book. That said, I started reading when it hit my Kindle and didn't put it down until I finished (for those fellow e-readers, like myself, I noticed no formatting issues as you sometimes see with kindle books). I found Dr. Hart's book to be utterly compelling and a magnificent achievement of the sort I have never read before in a "pop" psychology book. He manages to both make the neuroscience easily understandable, and uses he own autobiography to help support the argument prompted by his research findings. I have never seen an academic lay himself so bare, tenure or not. In doing so, Dr. Hart underscores his argument that drugs are not the primary problem in poor and/or minority communities. It is lack of many things: opportunity, personal decision making, family support, luck. Drugs are an issue, but this is due to the interaction of drugs with the above factors for most people (addiction is a different story, and Hart addresses that). The discussion of the similar depiction (by researchers, the government, and the media) of various drugs over the years as being instantly addictive and creating a culture of violence due to the nature of the drug's chemistry (whether it be cocaine, crack, or meth) was very powerful. Dr. Hart believed this himself until his research showed him that people were not mindless, poor decision makers only out for the next high. Using the lens provided by his research findings, he saw his own past and the pasts of the people he knew growing up in a different light. Dr. Hart's argument is very nuanced and makes it clear that the war on drugs is not only untenable from a "success" perspective, it is also disproportionately damaging to people from disadvantaged populations. This war and the subsequent criminalization of people takes even more opportunity for the future away.
I see the reviews of this book are polarized. People either love it or hate it. What that should tell potential readers, even if they want to dismiss every word of this review, is that this is not a book to be missed. The last thing you will be is bored. But read it carefully. I saw no glorifying of drugs, nor the rantings of a drug advocate. Rather, Dr. Hart suggests that being pro/anti drugs outside of the situational context is too simple a mindset.
83 of 91 people found the following review helpful
on June 14, 2013
STOP! If you are seeking a dry technical textbook then High Price by Dr. Carl Hart is not for you.
High Price is an intensely personal page turner that forces the reader to challenge everything we believe we know about drugs such as: what is addiction, what kind of family structure is more likely to produce addicts, why do people get high, why are poor black people overpopulating prisons, and what can we do about it.
I believe Dr. Hart wants to affect Drug Policy by educating us to think carefully and critically about illicit drugs thereby shifting our bias from personal anecdotes to empirical evidence. The Drug War & Mass Incarceration are topics I am passionate about so I read High Price in less than a day and now I follow Dr. Hart on twitter.
High Price is a memoir. It could have been written solely as a science book but I appreciate the personal approach because I saw my family in those pages and I found myself thinking about their drug use and my non drug use in ways I have never before. Prior to reading High Price I had already believed drug policy was a problem but after reading High Price I can articulate WHY drug policy is a problem. I now ask questions much harder than - what would've happened if President Obama was stopped and frisked?
The Drug war is as much about racism as it is about outrageous lies & myths surrounding illicit drug use. Dr. Hart teaches this in a memoir full of Racism, Politics, Drugs & Sex and it is so good I want all of my friends to read it.
65 of 73 people found the following review helpful
on August 11, 2013
This was an easy to read memoir of a young African American man who grew up in poverty in the city, witnessed family and neighborhood dysfunction, violence and drug abuse, and rose above it all to become a professor and scientist. In his younger years, he believed that drugs were the cause of all of the problems in his neighborhood, but as he began studying illegal drugs and how they work on humans, he came to the realization that there are many more variables at play, and blaming just the drug is off the mark.
I really liked the information about drugs that Dr. Hart writes about, especially how his findings differed from so much of what we hear today about illegal substances. I also liked the way he tied his findings into observations about his own life and how drugs are demonized by the media and even other scientists when the facts say otherwise.
What I didn't like so much was the memoir part of the book. Although Dr. Hart's story is interesting, he has a somewhat clunky writing style, and I really struggled getting through the first third of it. I felt like he repeated himself a lot and seemed to pad the writing with extra sentences. If his editor would have tightened up the prose a little bit I would have enjoyed it a lot more.
I personally don't think that decriminalization goes far enough, and that is Dr. Hart's recommendation, but aside from that, I enjoyed all of the parts about his research and how drugs work on the body, and his analysis of the methods of some of the tests that have been done previously. His writing seemed to come alive a little bit more at these parts, and I definitely learned something new.
I would recommend this book for the drug science information, but with reservations because it can get a little wordy and drawn-out at times. I would probably read another book by this author.
27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on June 16, 2013
I took Dr. Hart's Drugs & Behavior course as an undergraduate at Columbia. Dr. Hart is known all over campus as an engaging, committed, and provocative professor. He's won university-wide teaching awards, and his lecture course is on the can't-miss list of courses for undergrads. In his class, Dr. Hart discusses not only the science of drug use and abuse but also the political and social aspects of drugs in American society. His lectures are smart, funny, and always entertaining. As is his book.
I was really curious to read this book. I only knew Dr. Hart as a scientist and a professor, not really as a person. The personal story that he tells in this book is somewhat shocking in places and truly brave. (It was probably a good idea that he waited to write this book until after he got tenure. This is not a stodgy academic tome. This is a fascinating and frank autobiography.)
But in telling his own story about how he went from a childhood of poverty and petty crime to becoming the first African American to be tenured in the sciences at Columbia, he manages to make a very subtle but important point about how current drug policy disproportionally targets African American men. He artfully addresses the inconsistencies, hypocrisies, and injustices of drug policy in the United States, without slipping into knee-jerk liberalism or academese.
This book has been out only a week, but it already seems to have stirred up some controversy. Certainly the intersection of drugs and race in American society inspires some complicated and contentious feelings on all sides. Dr. Hart advocates for the decriminalization of drug use, which might at first sound like a fairly radical suggestion. But perhaps what is most remarkable about this book is that Dr. Hart lays out the case for decriminalization with such a careful, intelligent, and light hand, that when you finish the book, decriminalization doesn't seem radical at all. Instead, it seems like the most reasonable and responsible option we have.
I'm still not sure what the answer is for our society; it may be that decriminalization is not feasible in our current political climate. All that is clear is that we are not winning the war on drugs. Each year, thousands upon thousands of people lose the opportunity to gain education and employment and to become productive members of society, all because they get caught in the system on some nonviolent drug possession offense. Instead of making sure that those with real substance use disorders get the treatment they need, we lock them and the casual users in jail. Dr. Hart bravely addresses this shameful reality in a cogent and even-handed way. I think that if more people on all sides read this book, it could start a more pragmatic and intelligent conversation about how we as a society handle drug use and abuse.
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on June 17, 2013
This guy's incredible life story aside (drug dealer and DJ to professor at Columbia!), I was amazed to learn that the US's current drug scheduling laws are simply not based on sound scientific research, but the biased interpretation of sketchy data and political and media scaremongering. "High Price" is a deeply personal, autobiographical work -- don't come to it expecting a dry textbook approach to the subject (thankfully it's far from that!) -- that details a great deal of Dr Hart's childhood and adolescence and his journey towards discovering the truth behind many of society's most demonized drugs, as well as his thoughts on what causes people to use and abuse them. His claim, for example, that methamphetamine (apart from impurities) is essentially the same drug as the commonly prescribed (and over prescribed) pharmaceutical, Adderall is simply mind-blowing. You mean it's okay for "big pharma" to push Adderall on kids for ADHD, but you get locked up and have your life ruined for using or selling basically the same thing on the street?! Apparently so! WTF! Similarly, the revelation that the only difference between powered cocaine and crack cocaine is the form in which it's used and sold... the chemistry is virtually identical. Remember all the media hype surrounding the "dangerous, highly addictive new drug" crack in the late 80s and 90s?! Just buy this book and spread the word. We've all been lied to for way too long. Dr Carl Hart appears in the 2012 drug war documentary, "The House I Live In," which is also highly recommended.
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on June 15, 2013
I bought this book because I was hoping to learn something about how drugs work in the brain and drugs' societal implications from an actual scientist. What I learned is that the issue is much more complex than I imagined and actually much more interesting. The memoir part of the book was engrossing and provided real life examples of the science and consequences of current drug policies. The science and policy parts were interesting and accessible to even a non-science/ politics person like myself, the author provides data to back up any claim he makes. I highly recommend this book for anyone curious about any aspect of drugs.
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on June 16, 2013
I picked up this book after hearing Dr. Hart on NPR. I finished it in two days; I could not put it down. It's an interesting type of book -- part brutally honest memoir, part intelligent and scathing assessment of how our society handles issues surrounding drugs and race. Writing a book that is both personal and scientifically minded is a difficult feat; it's easy to imagine how the book might have ended up reading as somewhat clunky or contrived. It didn't at all. Instead, Dr. Hart is able to seamlessly interweave stories of his childhood growing up in a fractured family in Miami and the latest research in neuroscience and neuropsychopharmacology. It's an impressive undertaking. Dr. Hart's autobiography is fascinating in and of itself, but his ability to use his own story to tell a larger story about the science of drug use is what makes this a truly masterful work. It reminds me in many ways of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Like that book, Dr. Hart's book contains some serious and important discussions of science but manages to talk about that science as part of a larger human story. The result is a truly extraordinary combination of riveting personal revelations and a sophisticated but readable discussion of what we know about drug use from neuroscientific research. Like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, this book will stick with you long after you've put it down. The compelling story and the incisive way in which Dr. Hart tackles a very controversial issue will have you thinking about drugs and society in a new and important way. Dr. Hart offers a fresh and compelling perspective. I highly recommend giving this a read.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on July 19, 2013
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This is an amazing book. Not only is it a fascinating memoir, it breaks open the myth about "addictive" drugs which are supposedly the reason for the War on Drugs. Carl Hart convincingly argues, based on his research with animals and people in controlled settings as well as his own experience that our flawed policies and laws criminalizing marijuana, cocaine, and other drugs are primarily intended to control minorities and the poor. He makes the claim that only a small percentage of people are actually "addicted" to these substances, but the laws are based on the idea that everyone who touches them becomes a wild-eyed criminal. Dr. Hart makes a persuasive case for decriminalization. And his personal story which starts in the projects of Miami and end up on the faculty of a prestigious university is mesmerizing.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on July 27, 2013
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
I had never bought the party line about drugs and addiction, I sensed that the incarceration of users was wicked waste, and I was unhappy that my tax dollars went to a fruitless "war" on drugs rather than a winning one on poverty, but I didn't know there was science in support of my intuitions. I caught the end of Dr. Hart's talk at the Harlem Book Fair on C-SPAN and came right to my Kindle to shop for his book, which I devoured in two days. Others have noted how courageous and well told Hart's self-revelations are in this book and how relevant to his argument. I, for one, took hope from it. Young men and women who see Dr. Hart in person or on television may decide they can strive and succeed as he did. Certainly this book has the authority to affect policy for the better. I say thank you to the gentleman.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on December 11, 2013
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Excellent book. Very important and timely subject. I really enjoyed the story as well as the point of view. Thank you Dr Hart for writing this book. I believe this book would be useful for anyone with an interest drugs play in our society. It is also relevant to anyone concerned with poverty, the underclass and our ever growing prison population. As a well credentialed , ivy league professor and research scientist Dr Hart has the facts to support his point of view. High Price tells Dr Hart`s personal story of growing up male, black and poor. He is able to speak to our country's relationship with drugs from his unique perspective. Both as a person who grew up surrounded by illegal drugs and as a research scientist who has studied the effects of drugs on humans. Dr Hart`s honest look at his own life affords us a story with a happy ending. An outcome not seen often enough from the poor in our country. Just as importantly it addresses the factors behind our current drug policies and beliefs. We are educated to the political/societal agenda vs well done scientific research and its data. The book does not get bogged down by this information. It manages to tell a great story while informing you of the current science. This is accomplished by the use of detailed footnotes. Anyone who wants more data can easily do so without losing readers not interested in the science. With Dr Hart`s book I can see an action plan for those of us who want to address this pressing social issue. Thank you Dr Hart for writing this book and for the work you do.