"Opium: A History" by Martin Booth is an engrossing work of nonfiction that details human reliance on opium for thousands upon thousands of years and how it has affected us physically, emotionally, economically, and morally.
The book starts with a discussion on the poppy flower itself and how opium is derived from the plant's sap and ending on the efforts of international traffickers, government enforcement agencies, and doctors alike in either expanding or eradicating addiction to opium. In between, you will learn about opium's horrible effects on the body, Britain's establishment of the opium trade in China and later efforts to destroy it (counter to the rest of the world's reliance on opium to support their economies), the transformation of opium to heroin, the use of opium to inspire artists around the world, and the quiet and insidious opium trade that goes on with the permission of many governments to support war efforts and other international issues.
To me, the most fascinating thing I learned from this book was the amount of people addicted to the drug in the past because it was such an important painkiller/medicine and because it helped quiet fussy babies. You can't help finish this book and wonder if it is even possible to win a war against a drug that has shaped the lives of so many humans and so many societies for thousands of years.
I personally found the book easy to read, though I preferred the first two-thirds of the book. This part of the book covered the drug itself, its health affects, and its early history up to the nineteenth century. I wasn't as interested in the international trafficking part of the book (the last one-third), probably because so many people, organizations, and countries were mentioned that I lost track of which country was fighting who and who was doing what with heroin or opium. Still, the book is an eye-opening read. The excruciating description of opium withdrawal should be mandatory reading for high school kids to help stymie any attempt at trying the drug.