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The Pursuit of Oblivion: A Social History of Drugs [Paperback]

Richard Davenport-Hines
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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The Pursuit of Oblivion: A Social History of Drugs: A History of Narcotics, 1500-2000 The Pursuit of Oblivion: A Social History of Drugs: A History of Narcotics, 1500-2000 4.7 out of 5 stars (3)
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Book Description

16 May 2002

A history of drug-taking, telling the story across five centuries of addicts and users: monarchs, prime ministers, great writers and composers, wounded soldiers, overworked physicians, oppressed housewives, exhausted labourers, high-powered businessmen, playboys, sex workers, pop stars, seedy losers, stressed adolescents, defiant schoolchildren, the victims of the ghetto, and happy young people on a spree.

It is also the history of one bad idea, prohibition.

'You'll find almost everything you ever wanted to know about drugs in this work, except how to get hold of them'


'Everyone with any influence on government policy should read this book and wake up before it is too late'

Phillip Knightley, SUNDAY TIMES

Product details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Orion; New edition edition (16 May 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1842125524
  • ISBN-13: 978-1842125526
  • Product Dimensions: 21.4 x 13.4 x 4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 788,656 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

"Intoxication is neither unnatural nor deviant,"quotes Hines, prizewinning writer and regular TLS contributor, at the start of his compendious chronicle, The Pursuit of Oblivion. This pretty much sums up his objective take on drug consumption although he is far less impartial on the policies surrounding the trade and legislation of the drugs industry. This fascinating book examines the history of changing Western social attitudes to drugs, their place in our culture and what they reflect of it. Hines uncovers the strange duality of our love/hate affair with each drug du jour, fuelled by the twin forces of puritanical morality and the desire to be freed from one's conscious self. This is aptly mirrored by the fact that most drugs originated as medicines. While the burgeoning British-controlled opium trade created addicts across China, physicians at home were lauding the narcotic for its healing properties. Even minds as great as Freud's were at one time convinced of the marvellous psychological curative powers of cocaine. But of course, it has also been in the interests of scientific inquiry to further the development and production of drugs because of what they can reveal about the human psyche. And from the age of enlightenment onwards, we have as a culture been obsessed by this desire to look inwards: for as Hines rightly points out, it would be illogical to explore the outside world without also exploring the inner one. The Pursuit of Oblivion is exhaustively thorough and rich in detail but its real beauty is the energy and incisiveness of its writing. Hines is clearly riveted by every aspect of his subject and uses it to paint a colourful and captivating picture of evolving human nature in all its messy, ambivalent complexity. --Rebecca Johnson --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


THE PURSUIT OF OBLIVION by Richard Davenport-Hines LS Richard was on In our Time (BBC Radio 4) on Thursday 16 May and we've had a brilliant review in theGuardian: "...comes with the implicit Davenport-Hines guarantee of hard work, deep thought, and good writing... This is a book which politicians should be forced to read." Nick Lezard, Guardian ' epic romp...This is a well researched work and it is difficult to argue with the underlying attitude that criticises prohibition.'Martin Tierney, The Herald "A powerful examination ofthe more extreme palliatives that we use to help us cope with everyday life."

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
This is a scholarly work which describes changes in patterns of drug use since 1500. How different societies have thought about constitutes a drug and what role societies have in controlling these drugs is described for a range of different cultures.
The above sounds dry but there are many fascinating facts. Did you know that one of George V's physicians recommended heroin tablets for a dry cough? And that nobody thought it odd,wrong or dangerous.
The author does have his sympathies but he tries hard not to let them show in what is a fair account of the origins of today's drug problems.
The differing view points between Europe and the USA and how american attitudes appear to have gained the ascendency are particularly interesting and relevant.
I can recommend this book to all general readers. My only criticisms are that the paragraph spacing could have been shorter and there was no list of general reading accompanying the references.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Whilst almost every-one knows that the history of drugs did not begin in the sixties, it is nonetheless extraordinary how prevalent drug use has been across so many cultures and centuries.
Despite its somewhat daunting size, the pace of the narrative never falters, and by the end one is left wishing that he had gone into some of the material in more detail.
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0 of 5 people found the following review helpful
My copy of this book was lent out and not returned so I was pleased to find this old friend on Amazon Marketplace; the price I paid was very reasonable for a difficult to find hard back addition; it arrived promptly and the P&P charged reflected the real cost of the P&P paid by the seller. The condition of the book was only reasonable rather than "good" as described by the seller therefore overall I rate my purchase as 4 star rather than 5 star.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.0 out of 5 stars  1 review
4.0 out of 5 stars Backwards 5 May 2013
By James Ashley Shea - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition
The author lists drugs in five categories: narcotics, hypnotics, stimulants, inebriants, and hallucinogens. He omitted another category, dissociative drugs, which you can find out about in wikipedia.

He writes: "Morphine acts on three distinct receptors -- called collectively the opiate receptors -- which have been known only since the 1970s. In the same decade a group of neurotransmitters collectively called the endorphins were found to act as opiate receptors and block both sensory and emotional pain."

Obviously, that is backwards. Endorphins function as neurotransmitters, not receptors. Endorphins don't act as receptors; they act on receptors.
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