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Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs Paperback – March 1, 2016
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"A wonderful book . . . I hope everyone will read it." - Sam Harris
"Wonderful. I couldn't put it down." - Noam Chomsky
"An absolutely stunning book. It will blow people away." - Elton John
"Superb journalism and thrilling story-telling." - Naomi Klein
"One of the world's most important and most enlightening thinkers and social critics." - Glenn Greenwald, winner of the Pulitzer Prize
"A terrific book." - Bill Maher
"Incredibly insightful and provocative." - B.J. Novak, writer for THE OFFICE
"Amazing and bracing and smart. It’s really revolutionary." - Dan Savage
About the Author
Johann Hari was a columnist for the Independent in London for nine years and was twice named Newspaper Journalist of the Year by Amnesty International UK. He has written for the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Guardian, Le Monde, Slate, the New Republic, and the Nation. He has also been awarded the Comment Award for Cultural Commentator of the Year by Editorial Intelligence, and has been named Journalist of the Year by Stonewall. Hari lives in London.
Top customer reviews
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But less than halfway through the first chapter, I couldn’t put it down – it’s an amazing read. Johann has done something really phenomenal with this book, by combining compelling storytelling with the factual highlights of the abominable history of the war on drugs, plus an undeniable blueprint for replacing that war.
For drug policy experts like me, it’s a great read with some fascinating personal perspectives, while filling in a few historical knowledge gaps. Definitely a reading highlight.
But if you're an average politically-aware reader who doesn’t know all that much about the drug war, I think you'll find it even more valuable. Here, in one book, you get good stories with all the verified information you need to become informed on this critical issue. I plan on buying a few copies to give to friends to read.
Additionally, you'll learn through detailed analysis that much of what you think you know about addiction is wrong.
Hari starts with the biggest villain of all — Harry Anslinger — by researching through all his diaries and files stored at Penn State University. I’ve known mostly about Anslinger’s war against marijuana, and now learned a few more things about what he did to get the war on drugs started in full force in the book.
Johann Hari provides us, throughout the book, with incredible access to individual players in the drug war. For the history, in addition to Anslinger, his research provides detailed insights into:
-- Billy Holiday, a jazz singer and drug user whose paths crossed with Anslinger’s, and
-- Arnold Rothstein, who invented the modern drug gang, and was the first major figure in organized drug crime in the United States.
And as Hari moved us to the present and future, these personal stories came from actual extensive interviews with an amazing array of individuals, including:
-- Chino Hardin, a drug dealer for years in Brooklyn, who started his business when he was 14 years old.
-- Leigh Maddox, a state trooper who later turned away from the drug war.
-- Rosalio Reta, a killer for the Zetas in Mexico, who resides in a prison in Texas.
-- Marisela Escobedo, who refused to accept her daughter’s murder by drug traffickers, and led protests in Mexico, until she was assassinated in front of the government palace (interviews were with family and friends).
-- Gabor Maté and Bruce Alexander, who developed new ways of looking at addiction, while working with addicts in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
-- Bud Osborn, a poet and homeless addict who helped transform that area of Vancouver and bring about the notion of rights for addicts.
-- Ruth Dreifuss, former President of Switzerland, who supported and promoted harm reduction approaches, including heroin clinics.
-- João Goulão, who helped lead a revolution in drug policy in Portugal.
-- José Mujica, president of Uruguay, who brought marijuana legalization to his country.
… and we learn about the players in the very different legalization approaches in Washington and Colorado.
Good stories, compelling arguments, and powerful facts (all fact-checked by the author and editors, with over 65 pages of notes, and a website with actual audio tapes of the interviews for those who want more).
I think this is the most important book about the drug war and addiction out today.
But I do feel I need to put a bit of a damper on all the glowing 5-star reviews here. As a neuroscientist and someone who has thought about drugs, drug policy, and the drug war a lot, there are some serious issues here that I haven't seen pointed out in some other reviews.
First, Hari is neither a scientist, nor a historian, nor a physician - and it shows. The book is essentially one long anecdote, and hard numbers and statistics are few and far between. It could be argued that this isn't the point of the book, but nonetheless it is a shortcoming when an author purports to be documenting the facts and real-world outcomes of decriminalization/legalization.
Second, I found that despite his 3-year, 30,000-mile odyssey to explore the war on drugs, ultimately Hari still seemed naive and poorly informed about it all. By nearly page 300, he is still dumbfounded and incredulous at the idea that alcohol might in fact be among the most harmful substances in use today - it all seems so "counterintuitive" to him. These are the kind of numbers/findings that anyone who takes this topic seriously should have found in week one, not the kind of thing that one should be doubting with a gut reaction after years of research into the topic.
A similar example is Hari's hand-wringing and agonizing over the idea that his precious nieces and nephews might be harmed by smoking a joint (as if they aren't doing it anyway). Here Hari cites a deeply flawed and widely criticized scientific article claiming that marijuana use in adolescence "damages IQ for life" and brings up the example of a friend who smoked a lot and now thinks it harmed him for life. There just doesn't seem to be any context here - as David Nutt (interviewed in the book) has pointed out, horse-riding causes way more brain damage than drugs in the UK, but no one thinks of it as a scourge of the youth that should be fretted over. Here in North America it's concussions from football and hockey, which again hardly raise an eyebrow. And look at the way we let our children eat, for crying out loud, and the ensuing obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. That anyone who has thought about these issues in depth is actually wasting time worrying about young people smoking a joint is shocking to me.
Third is the snide treatment of Timothy Leary. Hari spends page after page treating everyone he comes across in his journey with the utmost compassion. Whether they have lived as thieves, murderers, torturers for drug cartels, etc., all of them are portrayed as victims of an unfair system, unfair childhoods, unfair what-have-you – and this is a fair enough viewpoint with much truth to it. But when it comes to Timothy Leary, Hari's bleeding heart is suddenly dry. Leary is dismissed in less than a page as a psychopath who scared all the 'normal' people and ruined the whole decriminalization party for everyone else. No matter that Leary himself suffered from alcohol addiction and the traumatic suicide of his first wife; no matter that without his proselytizing it's very unlikely any of us would be having this conversation today; no matter that he originally advocated gentle decriminalization and a licensing system so that everyone could use substances responsibly and is pretty much the grandfather of the modern movement; no matter that for these altogether minimal actions he was hounded by the government for years and incarcerated in a maximum security prison under a life sentence for possession of a trivial amount of marijuana.
In short, when it came to the material I knew best (certain aspects of the neuroscience and history), Hari seemed grossly uninformed and/or naive - and this makes me question how much I can trust his reporting and assessment of other issues about which I know less.
Overall, I definitely recommend this book and it is well worth reading for the compelling stories within. But I disagree with the majority opinion here that this is some kind of flawless masterpiece. It's a great read, and full of great stories, but this is not scholarship by any stretch; it is at best journalism, and probably better described as a personal memoir. That doesn't necessarily detract at all from its value but the reader should know what they're getting into.
It's well-cited & has plenty of links, so any ideas of plagiarism or factiousness should be researched before throwing accusations. (Plenty of links, citations, etc.)
He's honest about his conflictions and changes in people's stories. I have buried more friends between 20-40 due to heroin/pills (& a few drunk driving,) than most can imagine. I know all too well that even people who "know better" can still become addicted. There is so much isolation in being an addict, causing further withdrawl from society & unwillingness to tell friends/family for fear of being judged. When you're an addict, one often feels as if there's nobody else who understands...except your sick addict running buddies. I was a professional, it took me almost a year to kick, and after a while I told everyone who didn't know. I was ostracized, except by 2 people who I NEVER expected to have any compassion for me (those were the friends I *thought* I'd lose. They gave me comfort & love.) Punative measures aren't helpful for addiction, mental illness, etc.
My fair city is cited a few times in this book as Anslinger was severely delusional in his pursuit to punish all addicts, and I see the faces of desperate addicts every day. I know how corrupt my PD is.
While he lays out info in a somewhat informal way (cited!,) it paints a human picture. It's a GREAT read in tandem with "The New Jim Crow." (Alexander.)
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