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Great pics, lame text
on April 7, 2010
The color photos of opium pipes and paraphernalia are great. The text reads like it was patched together in an hour - unfocused and uninvolved. Mr. Wigal was not a good choice for this volume. His prefatory dedication is to "colleagues who have been addicted to religion or drugs". Way to show enthusiasm for your subject! The sentiment is understandable, but seems like an odd association with such a book.
His meager text wanders time and again from the point of the book, as if he just could not let himself get involved on any level. Ok, there are some informative sidelines, as his mention of, and still pic from the 1916 silent film "The Dividend", and the reproductions of old prints. But after mentioning that people used to lay down at social gatherings in the East, and describing a little-known painting of a reclining Last Supper (by Hieronymus Wierix) as an example, the relevant illustration shows the familiar sitting-at-table da Vinci!
In short, enjoy the great color photos of spectacular 19th century pipes, lamps, pins, scrapers, trays, etc., as well as the reproduced drawings and posters. But ignore the text and find yourself better, more specialized books to learn about opium history and culture, from the likes of Yangwen Zheng (The Social Life of Opium in China), Nathan Allen (An Essay on the Opium Trade, or Pereira (Elements of Materia Medica vol. 2, which the famous 11th edition of Britannica liberally plagiarized in its article on "Opium").
Then again, with the word "mystique" in the title, we don't expect anything too deep, and indeed it primes us for the superficial. But even as a study of a mystique, the text falls far short. I ordered the book for the pics of interesting opium paraphernalia, not to read about St. Laurent's "Opium" perfume. Perhaps Steven Martin shows a better approach in his "The Art of Opium Antiques". It will be my next Amazon order.