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Cocaine: An Unauthorized Biography Hardcover – June 26, 2002
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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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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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. For example, the chapter where we are introduced to George Jung and his Colombian buddy ends with an extensive discussion about Colombia and Pablo Escobar. The chapter title leads us to believe none of that and probably could have been titled "George leads to Colombian dominance" or something like that. This would give the reader a better idea of what to expect in each chapter.
If you are even the least bit curious about Cocaine, then this book is a must for you. Streatfield's writing style can be a bit whimsical at times but it provides just the right note of humor in a tome of documentary proportions and scope.
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. Unawarre of the crude nature of the mixture, he set a scientist upon the task; and the result was not the comparably weak cocaine smoked in the remote laboratories, but the first ever purification of cocaine into freebase. This massively more potent form, together with the relatively short nature of the high, were to revolutionize the drug culture in America, especially in the inner cities.
Most impressive about Streatfield's work, however, are the steps he takes to get firsthand knowledge, not only of the drug, but of the persons involved in the violent trafficking thereof. He visits and interviews many persons- law enforcement agents, imprisoned dealers, and even the armed compounds of wanted Colombian kingpins- putting himself in predicaments that have been the death of many before him.
This book provides a wonderful history of the plant itself, and a tremendous survey of the politics, crime, and fortunes that have arisen alongside it in the last 40 years. Fascinating.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Most addictive, long association with humans, hard to grow and extremely flexible why wouldn't you?