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Brief History of Drugs: From the Stone Age to the Stoned Age Paperback – 31 May 1999

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Product details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Park Street Press,U.S. (31 May 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0892818263
  • ISBN-13: 978-0892818266
  • Product Dimensions: 13.7 x 1.3 x 21 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 583,637 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


A fascinating and informative history of humankind's checkered and often ambivalent relationship with psychoactive plants and drugs. From the role of the opium poppy in ancient Mesopotamia and the ergot-based mystery cult of Eleusis, through the opium wars in China and the persecution of medieval herbalist witches, up to the 'psychedelic rebellion' of the sixties and the insanities of the current 'war on drugs,' Eschohotado covers an enormous subject with scholarly acumen and brings the light of reason to bear on topics often shrouded in bigotry, ignorance, and cupidity. Highly recommended! -- Ralph Metzner, Ph.D., author of The Unfolding Self and Green Psychology

This book examines natural substances used by different cultures to alter the mind. Makes for interesting, thought provoking reading. -- American Herb Association, Vol 16:4

About the Author

Antonio Escohotado is a professor of philosophy and social science methodology at the National University of Distance Education in Madrid, Spain. He travels widely, offering lectures and seminars on the subject of drugs and history.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on 26 Nov. 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Escohotado carefully pulls apart past and present orthodox thinking on drug use. What is really admirable in this piece is the way he avoids a simplistic or moralistic viewpoint. He labours to tell the story, covering all the angles. Amazingly, for such a short book, you get a broad overview of the subject but with much incisive detail. I especially enjoyed his coverage of the opium wars which he links brilliantly with the US government's attitude to drugs in the years after alcohol prohibition. There is a lot of detail on the persecution of drug users by the Catholic church from medieval times through to the conquest of the New World too.

All in all, a great little book which hints at the depth of Escohotado's "Historia de las Drogas". This was originally published in three volumes and is now available as one, huge tome in Spanish. I only wish my Spanish was up to reading it.

This brings me to the matter of the translation, which is atrocious. The translator, Kenneth A. Symington, does not seem to have the first idea of how to render the text into readable English. All too often, I could identify the original Spanish grammatical structure in the English text, as if he had simply translated word for word. It makes for a very heavy read. At times, I lost track of the subject of the sentence, as the translation rambled incoherently on. However, I have ignored the incompetent translation when giving the star rating...

I really hope that if the American publishers decide to produce any more of Escohotado's work, they'll find a different translator. It deserves better than this.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 28 Jun. 2000
Format: Paperback
Did you know that the romans had no word for a junky, but a dozen for alcoholics. Everything you ever wanted to confront your parents with, but never knew. It really makes you wonder how the world got to this state. Well written, entertaining and pure factual research. The only let down being that the full two volume version is not available in english and the native spanish is out if print. If you ever tried it, buy it! Cheers from Pet@
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 11 reviews
38 of 41 people found the following review helpful
A concise version of a lengthy classic 3 May 2000
By G. Bujak - Published on
Format: Paperback
This wonderful new volume is a very readable and informative condensation of and expansion on Escohotado own previous publication, the lengthy three-volume 'Historia General de las Drogas'. Here, in a text finely balanced with history and science, he traces humanity's affair with drugs and intoxicants beginning with the third millenium B.C., and leading up to the modern hi-tech psycheledics. He traces some of the most popular drugs like caffeine and hemp back to their surprisingly early origins. Taking into account the involvement of drugs in early religious festivities, he offers an analysis how they've made an easy move from there to a more secular, pleasure-seeking culture, accompanied by the parallel villification of drugs by religion, the institution that played a leading role in their introduction to society. This concise book will make readers aware of the extent of the spread of drugs through history, and of the hopelessness of all attempts to make them disappear from future history as well.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
No bibliography makes me a dull boy 25 May 2006
By Stefan Isaksson - Published on
Format: Paperback
I've never begun a book review by quoting the very last sentences of the book, but well, I guess it's true that there's a first for everything:

"Drugs have always existed everywhere, and judging by the present times, tomorrow there will be more drugs than exist today, so that the options are not a world WITH or WITHOUT drugs. The alternatives are to teach people how to use them correctly, or to indiscriminately demonize them: to sow knowledge, or to sow ignorance."

These two sentences work perfectly for summarizing what A Brief History of Drugs is all about. The book, a short version of the massive three-volume Historia General de las Drogas (only available in Spanish, however), is well-written, sober, clever, fascinating, and most importantly honest description about how various drugs have always been a part of human nature, civilization, and development. Without arguing whether or not all or some drugs should be made legal or not, Escohotado shows what the real world looks like; and it's a description that a whole lot of people probably don't want to know about.

Yes, it's true that the word "drugs" to most people have a very negative ring to it, and obviously it would be both ignorant and retarded to deny that numerous lives have been utterly destroyed due to drugs. Still, one cannot deny - whether you happen to be pro or against drugs - that less than one hundred years ago substances such as cocaine, heroine, and marijuana could be bought perfectly legal in drugstores all over the world, and that the great majority of drug uses managed to live perfectly normal lives before their drug of choice was criminalized, which only made things a whole lot worse (except for politicians on the search for votes). The drug question is an extremely complex question, and can therefore obviously not be completely summarized in a short book review.

All books about drugs are likely to be labelled in a negative way before people have even bothered to read them, and it's especially unfortunate when it happens to such a well-written and informative book as A Brief History of Drugs. Because this is NOT a sloppy "legalize it" book about drugs. Definitely not.

Instead it's the story about the human being and her development, misunderstandings between Western materialism and Eastern nature religions, political corruption at its very worst, and perhaps most of all the human weakness in fearing the unknown and accepting false truths without any scepticism whatsoever. A Brief History of Drugs will not turn the reader into a strung-out heroin junkie, but what it will do is start a debate and influence the reader into making his or her own decision. And isn't that what a successful non-fiction book is supposed to do?

The only negative thing about the book is the lack of a complete bibliography, something Escohotado himself mentions in the preface. He suggests the reader to look up the large work that this book is based on, but what good does that do to all of us who don't speak Spanish?
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
The English Translation is Coming Sonn 19 Dec. 2008
By Glenn W. Robinette - Published on
Format: Paperback
Yes, I agree. This one volume is a perfect introduction to the real thing, which unfortunately is only available in Spanish, and only if you read excellent Castellano. But the English translation is on the way. There have simply been too many requests for this classic 1500 page, three-valume, meticulously researched work that changed the entire debate about drugs in post-Franco Spain and led to the Spanish changes in drug policy, some of the most advanced in Europe. Escohotado demands of the reader a dedication to an objective fact-based understanding of the issue of drugs, exactly what has been missing in the U. S. for the last eight years. But this one-volume precis is a good start.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A very readable book about mind alterations and its modalities throughout the ages. 26 Nov. 2012
By Alrey4la - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Escohotado does a great job at reviewing the changing status of various substances throughout the world and throughout the ages. Mind altering substances have fascinated and frightened humanity since the dawn of time, and have most likely been pivotal in the emergence of shamanism and primitive religions. Contrary to pagan religions, monotheisms have been generally suspicious of mind alteration, leading to various forms of prohibition throughout the ages, up to the temperance movements in the 19th century US, and global prohibition of certain psychoactive substances and the infamous War on Drugs in the 20th century. The end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21 century have witnessed a spectacular return of the repressed, with the upsurge of narco-trafficking and illegal drugs on one hand, and the explosion of psychopharmacology on the other. The book could use some updating as things have changed quite a bit since it publication, and prohibitionism is coming under growing pressure. For some update, I would suggest World War D - The Case against prohibitionism, roadmap to controlled re-legalization. To the best of my knowledge, "World War-D" is the only book looking beyond the War on Drugs, and explaining the potential pitfalls and benefits of alternatives.
A true guide to the real drug problem 1 May 2015
By Santiago Roel - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I believe Antonio has nailed the issue and the true interests behind the scenes: The obscure desire to control and profit from prohibition by dark government in alliance with religious hierarchies, the military and private corporations. The failed war on drugs is really a war against the individual and collective liberties. His historical and philosophical perspective is useful for anyone trying to understand the core of the matter. The book is well documented and fun to read. Congratulations to Antonio Escohotado.
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