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Cocaine: An Unauthorized Biography Hardcover – June 26, 2002

4.7 out of 5 stars 36 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Cocaine, writes filmmaker Dominic Streatfeild, "is not some evil spawn of Satan but simply a commodity." Like other commodities, cocaine has a history. When the Spanish conquistadors came to South America and observed that Indians who chewed the leaves of Erythroxylon coca could, it seemed, march over the tallest mountain or through the densest forest for days on end, they knew they were onto something. The newcomers took to growing coca themselves, and in time their product found an audience outside the continent, with users such as Sigmund Freud, Ernest Shackleton (who "took Forced March cocaine tablets to Antarctica in 1909 for the energy boost they gave"), Duke Ellington, and, eventually, half of Hollywood to testify to its powers. Streatfeild's appropriately rapid narrative takes in such key moments and players as "the year of cocaine" 1969, when the film Easy Rider reintroduced the drug to American popular culture, and George Jung, whose exploits are chronicled in Ted Demme's film Blow, to create a portrait of the drug that ranges over centuries. Though he supports legalization, Streatfeild acknowledges the evil and corruption surrounding the trade. Drawing lessons from history, he also suggests the possibility that "cocaine will fizzle out in the year 2015 the way it did in the early twentieth century." At the close of this absorbing book, he adds, "It deserves to." --Gregory McNamee

From Publishers Weekly

Boil off Streatfeild's informal tone a mix of self-deprecation and gonzo-journalist swagger and what's left is a fascinating and richly detailed story of the world's most notorious drug and an illicit $92-billion-a-year industry. Streatfeild, a British documentary film producer, visits its every outpost, from Bronx crack houses and Amazonian coca plantations to Bolivian prisons and the compounds of South American drug lords. He launches the story with a history of the coca leaf and its prominent place in both ancient and contemporary consciousness, tackling race, poverty, class, violence, mythology and xenophobia as seen through the prism of cocaine. There are countless strands to the story, and Streatfeild follows every one: the rise of the Colombian cartels, government collusion with traffickers, the crack phenomenon, media hype, the U.S. war on drugs and the legalization debate. The author lights up the myriad figures who feature in cocaine's history: Columbus, Freud, Pablo Escobar, Manuel Noriega, George Jung, even Richard Pryor and the late basketball star Len Bias. He picks the brains of botanists and economists, lawmen and guerrillas, addicts and kingpins, and travels extensively throughout the Americas. The main drawback: Streatfeild's insistence that the reader be privy to superfluous research details such as fizzled leads, false starts, wrong turns and boring authors. In the end, though, Streatfeild delivers a straight tale about a world where nothing is as it seems.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books; 1st edition (June 26, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312286244
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312286248
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.7 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,063,016 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I picked this book up randomly at Heathrow Airport. I've been wanting to read that history of salt book and figured that this would be an okay second choice.
I was wrong - it was an AMAZING choice. I could not put this book down.
Fun facts, hilarious commentary, outstanding research, and true journalistic investigation.
I hope that this book catches on... I've already promised my copy to 10 people.
Are you the type of person who likes to learn new things and share them with others? Get this book.
Do you like to read alternative accounts of history? Get this book.
Do you like informative writing with a humorous bent? Get this book.
I hope to read more by this author in the future.
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By A Customer on June 24, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Streatfield has written a very interesting account of the history of cocaine from its use in the Andes thousands of years ago to the present day. The book is full of information, stories, personal anecdotes, and legends all interwoven in a light-hearted and humourous style.
He goes in depth into the impact of the drug trade on society and politics in a number of countries as well as providing a thorough review of how cocaine emerged on the European social scene in the late nineteenth century.
He writes as a fascinated observer rather than as a historian - a style which takes a bit of getting used to but overall enhances the reader's enjoyment.
You might not agree with all of Streatfield's opinions but it will give you a new perspective on the cocaine trade, its impact on America, and what can be done about it. The book is fascinating and an eye opener - worth picking up.
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Format: Hardcover
If you ever wanted to know an extraordinary amount of detail about cocaine and then some, this is the book for you. Written by a documentary filmmaker, Streatfield's enormously thorough tome not only takes you across various geographies, but also through time. Starting with the Incan and Aztec uses of the coca leaf, Streatfield takes us on an incredible journey of a substance that leads us through to the Latin American domination of production while highlighting the U.S. consumerism of the product.
The amount of detail in this book is staggering as Streatfield has spent a lot of time researching materials as well as tracking down individuals around the globe. Statistics are liberally used to drive home his points. For example, in the 1980's the Miami Federal Reserve Bank had an unexpected surplus of US $5.5 Billion. This was more than all of the other 11 Federal Reserve Banks combined. The book is full of statistics like this that demonstrate the scale of impact of cocaine.
In addition to the facts and figures, we are introduced to some fascinating characters on this journey. We learn of Sigmund Freud's addiction to cocaine (there are some who believe that his great work would have not been possible without cocaine), the American distributor George Jung (popularized in the movie Blow), super narco-terrorist Pablo Escobar and his ilk and many others. Some characters are superfluous (i.e. Freud) but others are more central to machinations of the cocaine industry and their impact is thoroughly explored (i.e. George Jung, Carlos Ledher).
If there is a con in the book, it is that some chapters are not labeled as properly as they could be.
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Format: Hardcover
Streatfield treats us to a well-researched saga of a nondescript plant turned worldwide scourge.
The harmless looking coca plant was a staple of native South American societies for millennia. The continent's natives chewed a compound based on coca leaves to increase their endurance during long, trans-mountain treks; the chewing of which also reduced the food they would need on these grueling voyages. Coca, when taken in this manner, would provide a prolonged, but mild effect, in comparison with the 'high' that comes from the more pure forms of the substance that have been produced by modern science, medicine, and 'criminal enteprise'.
Streatfield explores the newfound interest in the plant occasioned by medical research in the late 19th century, when many doctors and scientists, during the course of studying this remarkable drug, almost invariably found themselves 'addicted' to it. (Whether cocaine can truly be called 'addictive' is still a subject of debate and controversy. Opponents of the appellation 'addictive' emphasizing that cocaine, unlike drugs such as heroine and alcohol, does not produce withdrawal symptoms in the user who ceases its intake. This is anoverblown debate, unfortunately, as, like many high-profile debates in society, the point of contention is not substantive but semantic.)
Streatfield documents the decline of cocaine use in the early to mid 20th century, and tracks its subsequent rise on the heels of the blossoming drug culture of the 1960's. One interesting point involves the attempted duplication, by an American distributor, of the smoked variety he sampled in a South American labaratory.
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