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Hep-Cats, Narcs, and Pipe Dreams: A History of America's Romance with Illegal Drugs Paperback – April 28, 1999
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This sweeping, highly colorful, riveting narrative resurrects a largely forgotten history of drug use and abuse in the U.S... Beginning with Chinese opium dens, patent medicines and early, ostensibly anti- drug Hollywood movies portraying druggies as glamorous hedonistic rebels, she moves on to jazz-age Harlem, 1950s Beat hipsters and then to the 1960s counterculture... Her entertaining chronicle includes side trips to 1930s Paris, the N.Y.C. mob underworld, Marseille's Corsican, CIA-abetted drug network if the 1950s and '60s and today's Colombian cocaine cartels. It culminates with a compelling argument against legalization or decriminalization.(Publishers Weekly (starred review))
Filled with fascinating anecdotes and factoids.(Guy Gugliotta Washington Post Book World)
Exhaustively researched... compelling... For those interested in learning more about the history of drug abuse in America, or obtaining a fuller appreciation of the current problem, Hep-Cats, Narcs, and Pipe Dreams is a valuable resource.(Jim Shea Hartford Courant)
Disturbing and fascinating.(Neil Steinberg Chicago Sun-Times)
A colorful history of drugs and their glamorization.(Kansas City Star)
Combin[es] indelible profiles of individuals with shrewd cultural analysis.(Booklist)
This readable, fascinating work covers the ups and downs of drug use and abuse primarily in the United States from the late 19th century to the 20th-century's drug/AIDS connection... Well paced and informative... Highly recommended.(Library Journal (starred review))
Besides its wonderful title, 'Hep-Cats' has several things to recommend it. First, it's comprehensive: It can sit on your bookshelf next to Gray's Anatomy as an encyclopedia of what people do to their minds and bodies. Then there are the anecdotes, like the one that had my friend reading it aloud on a Metro North train, sputtering with laughter at the antics of Leary and Ginsberg. And finally, there's the no- nonsense prose―this is a foundation history, a solid fact-filled book on which more whimsical interpretations will be built.(Stephen Talty Time Out New York)
A classic, as fine a history of America's experience with illegal drugs as we are likely to see and a delight to read. The author writes with such pace and excitement that you cannot wait to find out what's on the next page... put 'Hep-Cats, Narcs, and Pipe Dreams' in your permanent collection.(Joseph A. Califano, Jr. America)
'Hep-Cats, Narcs, and Pipe Dreams' tracks the colorful careers of movie stars and street junkies, drug traffickers and federal agents, to document journalist Jill Jonnes's chillingly plausible thesis: that drug abuse is as much a part of our national heritage as Mom, the flag, and apple pie... Jonnes's book is lively, anecdotal, and entertaining―until we stop to consider the reality of a substance abusing nation.(Francine Prose Elle)
About the Author
Jill Jonnes had been a journalist for many years when she earned a Ph.D. degree in history from Johns Hopkins. She curated the new U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Museum's exhibit "Illegal Drugs in America: A Modern History."
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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.
The book deals with - just like the subtitle says - the drug history of America, what substances have been legal and illegal throughout different eras, how the use and abuse have come and gone, what criminal (or legal) groups it was that distributed the drugs, how the public reacted to it all, and much, much more. Not rarely it's easy to be upset and/or surprised when one, for instance, learns of how widely available cocaine was at the beginning of the 20th century, or partakes in all those tragic fates that came to symbolize the traditional abuser after the crack epidemic swept across the country as the logical follow-up to the naïve cocaine extravaganza present throughout the 1980s.
It is, however, revelations about widespread corruption within different state and federal agencies along with revolting hypocrisy in American foreign politics that really grabs the reader's attention. One of many examples:
"The tragic truth is that the United States government covertly played a crucial role in strengthening the very organizations that fed the postwar drug plague, a plague that began on the streets of Harlem and other northern ghettoes, and spread eventually throughout the country." (pg.166)
In other words; from time to time the alleged good guys were (and still is?) just as wicked as the bad guys and organizations they say they're after.
"The United States, which historically had been implacably opposed to anything that promoted nonmedical drug use, had started to turn a blind eye to certain trafficking activities if they involved those friendly to our cause in the Cold War." (pg.175)
However, not everything is pleasing with Hep-Cats, Narcs, and Pipe Dreams. Because, Jonnes has - and this is very surprising considering not only her historical training but also the way the rest of the book looks - a view of the relationship between humans and drugs that is nothing but shockingly narrow-minded and outright offensive. Not only does she refuse labelling alcohol as a drug and apparently thinks it's cute and charming when someone has a drink or two as a means of relaxing after a hard day's work; she also apparently believes that all drugs are always harmful for all people under all circumstances.
Because of this, she finds it tremendously easy to come up with such bizarre ideas as: "The reality was that few people were likely to have their lives dramatically changed for the better or even notably enhanced by getting high." (pg.260) Abuse is equalled with abuse, the many positive effects of drugs in different circumstances are completely ignored, and the user is portrayed as an utter lunatic without any sorts of control over neither his thoughts nor his body.
And if this denial of the benevolent aspect of drug use isn't enough, she also has the guts to claim that usage is unnatural, by first saying that: "A rising chorus among the nation's youthful educated and elite argued that using drugs to achieve altered states was a natural - even desirable - experience." (pg.312), and then basically ridicules every single drug user in the history of mankind.
Apparently Jonnes believes that using different kinds of stimulants is a new invention, with no function whatsoever and with solely negative effects on everything and everyone. Even someone with only a meager knowledge of history is likely to know this isn't so, that people in all civilizations throughout the entire history of the human race have used different stimulants, both in religious and social contexts. What's "unnatural" about drugs is the drug trade itself, its politics, the artificial drugs developed in laboratories, and whatever restrictions the politics of narcotic substances has resulted in.
We all know that drugs and drug use have caused tremendous pain and insane amounts of casualties over the years. Denying something like that would be the definition of stupidity. But that's not the point; the point is that the scenario put forth by Jonnes is almost ridiculous in its absurd naivety:
"Nothing better epitomizes instant gratification and its dangers than the drug culture. Obviously, one of the great attractions of marijuana, cocaine, hallucinogens, and heroin is that they instantly loosen or dissolve ordinary inhibitions and restraints. The immediately put users in an 'altered state,' oftentimes pleasurable. People under the influence of these drugs become notably less responsible and do things against their better judgment. And focused as drug users are on the personal pleasure of using drugs, they certainly have no thought for 'collective well-being.' (pg.415)
So in the end, her book becomes just an average piece of work. Sure, she has lots of interesting things to say and is highly skilled doing so, but her unbelievably unrealistic approach to actual drug use comes very close to spoiling her entire effort.
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.