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The Road of Excess: A History of Writers on Drugs Hardcover – December 1, 2002

ISBN-13: 978-0674009141 ISBN-10: 0674009142 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 360 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; 1 edition (December 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674009142
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674009141
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,046,388 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Instead of providing a chronological history of drugs in literature, Boon (English, York Univ.) offers a sprawling, extensively researched work that explores the "more subtle, micropolitical histories of everyday interactions between human beings and particular psychoactive substances." Each of the book's five chapters focuses on writers (e.g., Baudelaire, Burroughs, Coleridge, Freud, Huxley, Kerouac, and Southey) and works associated with a particular class of drugs: narcotics, anesthetics, cannabis, stimulants, and psychedelics. Boon originally intended to confine himself to writers from the Romantics to the present but expanded his scope when after questioning the apparent lack of drug literature prior to Thomas De Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium Eater (1822). This is an ambitious effort, but as Boon himself notes in his chapter on cannabis, readers "will notice a tendency in my writing toward digression." A tighter focus would have helped, especially since many of the anecdotes have been covered elsewhere-most recently in Sadie Plant's Writing on Drugs. Still, this is a solid work of scholarship that should be of interest to most academic libraries.
William D. Walsh, White Pines Coll., Chester, NH
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review

Lucid, startling survey of significant writers and their cozy, quasi-scientific relationships with drugs...A well-executed, deliberative study that effectively reclaims and demystifies key written representations of drug experience. (Kirkus Reviews 2002-09-15)

Instead of providing a chronological history of drugs in literature, Boon offers a sprawling, extensively researched work that explores the "more subtle, micropolitical histories of everyday interactions between human beings and particular psychoactive substances." Each of the book's five chapters focuses on writers…and works associated with a particular class of drugs...This is a solid work of scholarship. (William D. Walsh Library Journal 2002-11-15)

Writers have been taking drugs as long as there have been drugs to be had, and--as we learn from Marcus Boon's fascinating and meticulous The Road of Excess--the line is blurred, in fact invisible, between those writers who take drugs to inflame or exalt their demons and those who simply need, in Aldous Huxley's phrase, "a chemical vacation from intolerable selfhood"...The Road of Excess does the field of drug studies a great service by providing a clear narrative of literature's long romance with drugs, and by relating each substance to a specific creative enterprise. (James Parker Boston Globe 2002-10-27)

The Road of Excess...focuses on the external conditions that prompted some of the world's most famous storytellers to smoke, snort and swallow their way to notoriety...By providing social, economic, ethnographic, scientific, and religious perspective as the foundation of his observations, Boon realizes his mandate by offering fascinating context and insight to a timeline that dates back to Homer's Odyssey. (Nick Krewen Toronto Star 2002-11-17)

Boon's observations speak as much to our scientific understanding of the brain as to our literary appreciation of writers like Henri Michaux and Charles Baudelaire, William Burroughs and Will Self, and they deserve close criticism. This alone makes Boon's ironic and perceptive book very welcome: It is that rare creature, a work of literary criticism that the scientific community can enjoy, contend with, and from which it can draw inspiration. (Simon Ings New Scientist 2002-12-18)

Marcus Boon...tilled the well-seeded territory of druggy writers...and now brings it to fruition in The Road of Excess...His feat suggests that even in a literature department, a lively empirical topic can survive years of deconstructive indoctrination and cultural-studies overkill...Boon's enterprising research soon takes the reader to intoxicating places...He proceeds incisively, his double-helix narrative intertwining a fine strand of scholarly detail with an ongoing argument for transcendental subjectivity's importance to literature--so powerful an influence it almost behooves writers to experiment with drugs...The most arresting strain of Boon's book is thus its vast historical sweep. Like the pal in the park believed to have "tried everything," Boon appears to have read everything concerned with writers and drugs. (Carlin Romano Chronicle of Higher Education 2003-01-10)

For the British romantics--Keats, Byron, Coleridge, Shelley, de Quincey--it was opium. For Proust, Guy de Maupassant and William James, it was anesthetics--either and nitrous oxide. Balzac, Coleridge, Rimbaud, Yeats and the Beats all smoked, ate and drank cannabis. Balzac's speedy writing was fueled by vast quantities of caffeine; Kerouac chewed Benzedrine to hurry his typing. Then there are such famous names as Leary, de Kooning, Bowles, Thompson and, of course, the king of literary druggies, William S. Burroughs, those day trippers who happily wrote while consuming all manner of psychedelics--peyote, mescaline, acid. All this social, literary and pharmaceutical history is considered in a thoughtful but engaging style by Marcus Boon. (Dan Smith Toronto Star 2002-11-16)

Boon has written the most useful and engaging history of psychoactive lit yet. His prose is generous, unhurried, and far too tasteful to gob up the page with theory. At the same time, he casts his net deep and wide, drawing in folks as disparate as Chaucer, Kant, and Iceberg Slim. Boon is not content to merely record the encounter between modern writers and drugs; he deepens the story as well, and, amazingly, he does it without exploiting the rhetoric of personal experience or subversive hip. (Erik Davis Bookforum 2003-01-01)

The first thing to say about Marcus Boon's Road of Excess is that he has certainly done the research...This [is a] valuable, philosophically provocative and sometimes quite moving work of literary criticism...Boon has read everything from Homer's Odyssey, with its description of the lotus plant, to the underground comics of Robert Crumb. And he can step outside literature to show a knowledge of a far wider cultural world. (Steven Rosen Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News 2003-01-26)

This meticulous exploration of the influence of narcotics on literature is like a late-night literary overdose...[Boon's] academic background shines through without bogging down this intriguing subject...The Road of Excess is broken down into five sections based on a specific realm of drug: opiates, anaesthetics, cannabis, stimulants (coffee, cocaine and amphetamines) and psychedelics. There is a historical logic to the structure that reflects both the social norms and the scientific discoveries of the time. It is this that makes Excess a riveting read as Boon describes the high-fashion accessory of hand-crafted syringes to inject morphine in public or the introduction of opium via Chinese workers in Europe. Boon has explored the cultures around his literary figures with methodical devotion, creating a colorful, if at times, frightening sense of time and place...[Boon's] writing is largely a clear, calm and extraordinarily researched discussion of strange visions, odd lives and often marvelous writing. (Ashley Crawford The Age 2003-04-12)

In an impressive display of scholarship, Boon meticulously chronicles the connection between writers and drugs. From Samuel Taylor Coleridge to Jack Kerouac, writers' personal odysseys into the dizzying world of drugs are depicted with a novelist's eye for detail. Boon...creates order of this heretofore largely uncharted history in five well-rounded essays examining how literature has been influenced by narcotics, anesthetics, cannabis, stimulants, and psychedelics. Through liberal use of anecdotes, Boon helps transform what could have been a dry recitation of cultural and literary artifacts into a feast of historical surprises...Though it is a scholarly endeavor, Boon's new work reads more like a wide-eyed, joyous romp through a literary statesman's funhouse, where each room contains a masterfully told tale of opium or morphine, peyote or LSD, coffee or cocaine. We see a gallery of our most prized literary lions, many of them stripped bare of their pristine reputations. It is a mind-teasing exercise that is well worth the trip. (Rebecca Shannonhouse Boston Globe 2003-05-04)

A scrupulously researched and splendidly written tome that is a joy to read and a challenge to digest. (Gordon Phinn Books in Canada 2003-09-01)

This meticulous exploration of the influence of narcotics on literature is like a late night literary overdose...[It is] a riveting read as Boon describes the high fashion accessory of hand-crafted syringes to inject morphine in public or the introduction of opium via the presence of Chinese workers in Europe. Boon has explored the cultures around his literary figures with methodical devotion, creating a colourful, if at times frightening, sense of time and place. At one moment we are in the salons of Victorian London smoking opium with Coleridge before charging into more contemporary times watching Jack Kerouac hitting the Benzedrine and the typewriter...Boon's writing is largely a clear, calm and extraordinarily researched discussion of strange visions, odd lives and often marvelous writing. (Ashley Crawford frontwheeldrive.com)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Julia Medina on April 28, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Where did this guy Marcus Boon find the time to research all these facts? Amazing collection of the serious and the hysterical. He has definitely studied his area thoroughly. A perfect addition to the political/social/cultural issues of the times. Highly recommended to anyone interested in the involvement of drugs with creativity. Good read. You will definitely have a new must-read list after you're done with this book.
I'd buy another book by the same author.
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