Top critical review
15 of 17 people found this helpful
Good information, poorly edited
on November 6, 2008
I would recommend this book to anyone who is curious about possible drug use by past civilizations. I believe this book has loads of insightful information and presents a well thought out thesis which is backed up with evidence that is pulled from a few main sources and which is open to debate. The writing style and organization leave much to be desired, however, the book presents a view of ancient people that is rarely presented. If you want to know where current academics let their philosophical views govern how they interpret ancient writings on drug use, this book will definitely give you some well thought out opinions on the matter.
As other people have mentioned, the author is angry that he had to edit out parts of his dissertation that related to drug use in order to obtain his doctoral degree. That would tick me off too. I do not believe that his anger came off as such in the book. I would describe it more as passion for the subject.
The main issues I have with the book is the poor editing and the lack of variety in the sources. The book could have been about half the size based upon the repeating of the main ideas with different examples. I understand why he organized the book the way he did, I just think it could have flowed better if it was organized with each chapter dedicated to the writings of each author discussed. The flow was broken up when going from one author to another and back again.
I do like the examples given on where drug use shows up in ancient writings, and the author gives some good examples of where modern scholars interpretations have distorted the translations. The book did leave me wanting more information and that seems to be the goal of the author. However, I do not possess the knowledge to translate the ancient works myself, and so I am left to read the writings based upon current translations. It may be nice if the author were to publish something that lists the Greek and Latin works that scholars have mistranslated and alongside them the correct translation according to his research (for the specific drug related words that have been mistranslated).
Lastly, the evidence given in the book is definitely debatable. While I do believe the author has proven his point sufficiently in the book, there is no way for him to prove to the world beyond a doubt that his views are right and the rest of the scholarly world is wrong. I believe that this makes that book much more interesting as a conversation piece since it can spark a rational debate that can only help us understand the current world we live in.
Over all, I would recommend this book. It is well researched, and provides a viewpoint on ancient drug use that is not often heard, but should be. It can be a bear to get though, but you will come out with a different perspective on ancient people and how they dealt with their world.