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Emperors of Dreams: Drugs in the Nineteenth Century Paperback – May 1, 2002
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About the Author
Mike Jay has written a book on the sacred plant drugs in Indo-European prehistory, an anthology of drug literature, and co-edited a collection of essays on evolution, decadence, atheism, the unconscious, feminism, sexology and futurism. He has also written on the social history of drugs for The Guardian, The Independent, Arena, Fortean Times and the International Journal of Drug Policy, among others.
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Top Customer Reviews
"Emperor of Dreams" is very well done. I found it to well balanced in that it provided a lot of factual information without being dry, it was a fascinating page-turner without being sensational, it was not dumbed-down but it was easy to read and hard to put down. This is coming from a reader with a very short attention span unless the reading material is fascinating.
Although the book is not centrally focused on drug literature, this author provides more actual information on this branch of literature than Sadie Plant does in her book which presents itself as just that; a book about "Writing on Drugs" (which, by the way, I reviewed).
I would say that "Emperor of Dreams" and "The Road of Excess" are both great and about equally good, but they are different enough so that it would not be redundant to read them both. Rather, as good as each of these books is on their own, the two of them together round out the subject well. "Emperor of Dreams" is certainly easier to read and "The Road to Excess" is more academic, both are insightful and illuminating.
If one reads either "Emperor of Dreams" or "The Road of Excess" then one would learn little from "Writing on Drugs" except perhaps what sort of distracted, meandering and structureless book would result from writing about drugs while on drugs; It seems the author of "Writing on Drugs", Sadie Plant, was too drugged to write anything but an absent minded, distracted and meandering book.
But "Emperor of Dreams" is great reading.
Not true. Drugs aren't a new thing, go ask any archaeologist or anthropologist, and you'll be told how humans throughout history have used different intoxicants in order to reach other levels of consciousness and come in contact with their gods. There was a time when drugs - or, what contemporary man define as drugs - were not yet criminalized, when you could go to your local pharmacy and buy a bag of heroin or cocaine, and when many of the greatest names within literature, medicine, art, and philosophy were to try any substance they could get their hands on.
This was the nineteenth century, and in Emperors of Dreams Mike Jay offers a precise account of how cannabis, cocaine, opium, "laughing gas", ether, magic mushrooms, and mescaline were introduced to 19th century England, Europe, and America, who the individuals were that first started experimenting with them, and how society's views of the substances were shaped into what they are today.
Yeah, well, why should anyone bother reading about people doing drugs more than a century ago? Simply because sometimes - unfortunately quite often, to be correct - truth hurts and/or is very different from what you were taught in school, and there are few things as refreshing as a dose of the real world:
Sigmund Freud? A great fan of cocaine. Baudelaire and Gautier? The more hashish the better. Conan Doyle? Another cokehead for you. Queen Victoria? Sure, I'll have some more weed. And so on....
Books about drugs have a tendency to be divided into two camps: either pro or against legalization. Perhaps that's not very surprising, since drugs are something that most people (even the ones who never tried any) have strong opinions about. And that's why it's such a pleasure reading Jay's historical account, since he masters the difficult art of staying neutral. Yes, he admits that drugs can be bad for you, but he also admits that many people are able to use one of more substances without becoming total addicts. On page 240 he says:
"The story of drugs in the nineteenth century doesn't demonstrate that their widespread use is entirely without its problems and dangers - far from it - but it does enable us to focus with more clarity on the problems and dangers which only emerged after the supply and possession of drugs were criminalised."
Emperors of Dreams is a good book to read, partly because it offers a sober yet daring view of a reality many people are afraid to accept, and partly because the reader will be able to look at today's War on Drugs from a historical perspective. And historical knowledge truly is a must in order to make sense of the crazy world we all live in these days.
Recommended easy reading. Humbly submitted by Oneleg