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Dope Girls: The Birth of the British Drug Underground [Paperback]

Marek Kohn
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
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Book Description

22 Oct 2012
A drug panic. Murder. Terrifying and mysterious black and Chinese immigrants. Dope Kings. Jazz. War. An actress dead of an overdose. "Dope Girls" is about the transformation of drug use into a national menace. It revolves around the death in 1918, in the last furious stages of World War I, of Billie Carleton, a West End musical actress. Its cast of characters includes Brilliant Chang, a Chinese restaurant proprietor, and Edgar Manning, a jazz drummer from Jamaica. Around them in the streets off Shaftesbury Avenue and in Chinatown swirled a raffish group of seedy and rebellious hedonists. The drug problem was born, amid a gush of exotic tabloid detail.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 210 pages
  • Publisher: Granta Books; paperback edition (22 Oct 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1862076189
  • ISBN-13: 978-1862076181
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 13.1 x 1.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 258,291 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'A fascinating look at cocaine and opium use in Britain after the first world war' Sarah Waters, Sunday Times 'The best, most perceptive and most authoritative account of the British drug scene ever. This book is essential reading for doctors, legislators and law enforcers - indeed anyone who seeks to understand the impact that the illegal status of drugs has had on our society and culture' Will Self

About the Author

Marek Kohn is the author of The Race Gallery and As We Know it. He writes the 'Second Site' column for the Independent on Sunday and lives in Brighton. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 1920's Dope Fiend Shock! 20 Feb 2002
Don't be put off by the film-noir title or the unimaginative cover. This is an excellent account of English social history in many respects. Ostensibly, this book is the fascinating factual account of the under side of late-Edwardian social life in London and its use of drugs, albeit mainly cocaine and morphine, that weren't at actually criminalised at that time.
Set in London pre and post-First World War, the main character is that of of Billie Carlton, a budding theatre actress at the end of the 1910's, who gets in with a certain 'seedy' crowd that many other people from many walks of life were members of at this time, there is even an account of the trend amongst upper-class ladies (one of whom recounted here was a very well-known aristocrat) having followed the Parisian trend of morphine tea-parties. Drugs, drug use and abuse are the main characters downfall but this well-researched book explores the difference in attitudes to drugs on a social basis at the beginning of the last century and how these widespread attitudes shaped the drug laws and people's perception of them up to the present day, for better or worse. Literally, writes the author, the one court case subsequent to the death of Billie Carlton at such a young age in 1919, from an apparent overdose of opium, initiated changes in drug legislation that remain with us.
The author covers not just these aspects but how the First World War, racism, class-structure and the new young generation of the time all combined in a heady mixture that was too much for the media and the government in the 1920's. A fascinating 'story' and personally I am glad that there are books such as Marek Kohn's 'Dope Girls' that dig up long forgotten and almost unknown parts of history like this.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great little book 30 Mar 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Interesting stories from pre-war/post-war London. Maybe a bit labouring on the on the racial front - he goes into quite a lot of depth on the perceptions of "yellow peril"/"black peril" at the time, which in itself would be interesting as another book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Bought for a Cultural Studies Project 23 Feb 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A friend's daughter was doing a project and chose drug use among women in the 1920's as her subject so I bought her this as a popular introduction to the subject and read it myself first. Its not a long book but its an engaging popular history/account of a cultural phenomena and a social historical period which has passed now from living memory.
The celebs and the tabloids and the easy access to opium and morphine via a purchase from a dealer or a chemist are detailed and the moral outcry from the tabloids could be today's headlines pertaining to Kate, Pete, Naomi or Nigella -- nothing changes in the world of media outrage and an individual's predeliction for illict substances. She got an A for the project.
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