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HEP CATS, NARCS, AND PIPE DREAMS: A History of America's Romance with Illegal Drugs Hardcover – August 2, 1996

3.9 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Jill Jonnes provides a highly detailed and enormously readable history of American drug use in the 20th century, making the important point that narcotics were a problem long before their naive glorification in the 1960s. Without ever sounding preachy, she calls for re-stigmatizing illegal drugs. "The societal costs of widely available drugs clearly outweigh whatever pleasure and insight they provide to those who can handle them," she concludes. "Just Say No" may have seemed corny, but there was something to it.

From Publishers Weekly

At the turn of the century, Jonnes estimates, one American in 200 was a drug addict?and most of these were genteel middle-class women taking cocaine or nostrums laced with opiates. This sweeping, highly colorful, riveting narrative resurrects a largely forgotten history of drug use and abuse in the U.S. Jonnes, who researched this topic extensively while completing her Ph.D. in American history from Johns Hopkins, strongly opposes today's illegal drug culture, arguing that marijuana, hallucinogens, cocaine and heroin are far more dangerous than alcohol and engender crime, violence, personal tragedy and a culture of irresponsibility and instant gratification. Beginning with Chinese opium dens, patent medicines and early, ostensibly antidrug Hollywood movies portraying druggies as glamorous hedonistic rebels, she moves on to jazz-age Harlem, 1950s Beat hipsters and then to the 1960s counterculture, whose gurus, like Timothy Leary and Allen Ginsberg, helped spread drug use to the broad middle class. Her entertaining chronicle includes side trips to 1930s Paris, the N.Y.C. mob underworld, Marseille's Corsican, CIA-abetted drug network of the 1950s and '60s and today's Colombian cocaine cartels. It culminates with a compelling argument against legalization or decriminalization, charging that privileged baby boomers forget the financial and educational advantages that allowed them to emerge from 1960s drug use relatively unscathed.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner (August 2, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684196700
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684196701
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 6.8 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #254,013 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This book is a great read if you want to know about the interesting history of drugs in the United States. However, Ms. Jonnes provides "answers" at the end of her book that are not consistent with the material she previously exposed. For example, she says that one solution is to stigmatize drugs; yet in the sixties the older generation was wholly antidrug and that did not stop the counterculture from using them. She also does not seem to want to acknowledge that alcohol use is another important part of the drug epidemic (even if it is now legal, remember Prohibition days), indeed, most people start with alcohol as a pathway to illegal drugs, not with marijuana. Also, she wholly refuses to accept that there could actually be people who use illegal drugs in a recreational way and that this does not affect their lives, work or relationships, something I find disturbing because in reality this is quite common. So, all in all, read this book for its greatly researched and detailed history but form your own opinion about the current situation and how it should be handled.
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Format: Paperback
It's frightening to consider that most of the politicians and bureaucrats responsible for establishing illegal drug policy in America will have never read Jill Jonnes' book. Hep-Cats, Narcs, and Pipe Dreams should be mandatory reading for all such people, not necessarily because of the conclusions she reaches--there tends to be dispute in these--but because of the incredible wealth of historical information she has packed in it.
One surprise for the average reader of Hep-Cats is the rich history of illicit drug use in America. Drug use connotes Timothy Leary and the turbulent sixties, or the more recent crack cocaine epidemic. But in reality, numerous waves of drug abuse-illegal and otherwise--have swept the country, each with their own unique origins, consequences, and solutions. One of the benefits of studying history, is the opportunity to learn from past mistakes and avoid repeating them. It appears that America has been repeating its errors in using and controlling drugs for centuries. We're a liberal, open-minded society of fun-loving risk-takers. We delude ourselves into believing the latest and greatest drug has no consequences, or that we're at least of strong enough character to master it. The inevitable result is the vicious cycle of addiction (or dependency), crime, finger pointing, and policy experimentation.
Does the answer lie in prevention, treatment, education, law enforcement, stricter sentencing, or all of the above? We don't always agree, but Hep-Cats provides a thorough and accurate background, a wonderful educational foundation on which policymakers could base decisions and hopefully control arguably the single largest contributor to crime in America: drug abuse. But this is no textbook. Meticulously researched, thoughtfully constructed, and very well-written, Hep-Cats is an entertaining read for all. -Christopher Bonn Jonnes, author of Wake Up Dead.
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By A Customer on June 19, 1997
Format: Hardcover
Jonnes does an excellent job of recounting the history of illegal drugs in American society. But her own data contradicts her policy recommendations.

For example, she strongly supports an enlarged federal war on drugs because she says legalization failed.

Yet by her own figures, there is a higher % of the population now who are cocaine and opiate addicts,
than in 1900 when it was legal. Her figures: 0.96% mid 1990's, 0.46% 1900.

Jonnes refuses to consider Alcohol a drug problem, and hides from her own data that most cocaine users never become a problem to society in any way.

Read the history, but don't let the author tell you what this history means for the future. Jonnes seems unable to extend her own trend lines.
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Format: Paperback
Jonnes does a good job of chronicling America's history with drugs and drug use. She provides great detail in where drugs were and how they got there. However, her approached is biased and clouded by anti-drug inferences and conclusions throughout. After reading the second page, I knew exactly where her argument was headed. This might be fine for an opinion piece, but she presents this work as historical. It clearly is much more than that.
Jonnes also focuses on opiates as the standard for drug use, giving only passing references to marijuana, yet concluding that marijuana falls into the same category amid considerations of legalization or decriminalization. She makes some erroneous claims, like her implications that once you try opiates you'll be hooked soon after, very much a reefer-madness approach. She only casually alludes to Anslinger's corruption. She also only uses those studies that support her position, completely ignoring studies that have at least equal, and sometimes more, scientific soundness and validity. She never even mentions the government studies by Laguardia in 1944, or Schaffer in 1972, for example. But had she done that, it would have conflicted with her completely biased view. She even goes so far as to imply that Nixon eased drug penalties and presents him as a common-sensical figure in this, completely ignoring his demand that marijuana be classified as a schedule 1 narcotic, which it isn't (it's not even a narcotic, and it certainly doesn't fit the critera of schedule 1).
Unfortunately, this book is like much of anti-drug works - political in nature and deceptive in detail.
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