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on 7 November 2012
If you like the TV show The Wire, you will enjoy this book. Although this 'non-fiction' let me point out right away that Feiling's writing is compelling, fluid and I had trouble to put the book down. The book explains how the drug/cocaine industry evolved, how it works, what damage it does to supplier and transit nations including Colombia, Mexico and Jamaica and how turning drugs into a moral question has produced a serious of laws that, if anything, waste enormous amounts of money without making any difference.

Perhaps often heard, Feiling shows that criminalising cocaine is not a solution to eradicate drug related crime but rather the root cause and that the disconnect between the war on drugs and the key drivers of the drug economy has never been wider: Like in The Wire, for every dead or imprisoned drug dealer, there are ten others who are ready to fill that place, simply because criminalising drugs made them lucrative. (Demand, he argues will not go away, it hasn't in the past). This in turn drives crime especially over supplier networks and territory.

Feiling describes how time and again, cocaine was hijacked to serve different political agendas both in the US and the UK. For example, Nixon's brilliant concept of a 'war against drugs' was nothing more than the politics of fear. He successfully enlisted the electorate against what he perceived to be a threat to WASP values by a 'nascent youth culture' and equated drugs with culture war. 'Ike [Eisenhower] he wrote it's just amazing how much you can get done through fear. All I talk about in New Hampshire is crime and drugs and everyone wants to vote for me- and they don't even have any black people up there'(Feiling 2009:34).

In the end the war on drugs consumes billions of dollars annually with little effect. Abroad, meanwhile the US has assumed a dominant role in the international fight against drugs for which it has pushed supplier countries to sign up to the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. The Convention,now archaic, binds the hands of governments to pursue alternative ways in reducing the very drug production that is driven by US and European demand.

If this sounds a bit dry, don't worry, the book reads at times like a thriller. Feiling draws on a vast volume of sources: reports, studies and interviews on the ground both in the US and South America. Having lived in Colombia obviously helped in gaining access to good sources. Although he sometimes loses the red-thread, overall the chapters build up to a coherent argument: we need to change our policy approach to drugs if we want to eradicate crime and misery.
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on 3 September 2010
I was expecting a much more glamorous tale at a much faster pace (never judge a book by its cover), however was surprised to read a fascinating and well researched account of how cocaine impacts countries globally in a multitude of ways. His country specific chapters are fascinating narco-histories of those countries.

It is possible to get bogged down as he makes his academic arguments to an audience beyond the lay-reader, but it is worth sticking with as no matter what your view on the topic there is a wealth of well presented information about this world that shows no signs of vanishing.
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on 13 August 2009
This is an important story extremely well told. Feiling shows clearly how, since the 1970s, the cocaine trade has insinuated itself into societies like Colombia, Jamaica and Mexico, offering vast financial rewards to marginal groups excluded from the global economy ('drug cartels'), looking to fund insurgent movements ('terrorists') or attempting to securitise their export monopolies ('drug enforcement'). His analysis demonstrates that the illicit trade serves the interests of dysfunctional nation states as much as it does the drugs business - and, consequently, how the two have so frequently merged. It explains why the War on Drugs, despite its huge destructiveness to civil society, has been locked in stasis for so long - and why legalisation, the only feasible solution, is so fiercely resisted by governments.
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on 3 April 2010
I appreciated that the author went into detail about this history of cocaine before he took us onto the path of all parties involved in it. From the authorities to the addict, to the causal user. Good insight.
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on 24 March 2015
Maybe a tad lengthy in places but this is a really eye opening read and also raises some really interesting and thought provoking questions about the doomed and insanely exorbitant joke war on drugs. He tackles his subject with informed reason and brings some sanity and scary stats to the ongoing debate. If only the people in power dared to be so honest and reasonable about it too.
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on 9 May 2013
This book is brilliant, really eye opening. It's set out so it starts with a history of how our relationship with cocaine developed and then goes on to talk about where we are now and the looks to the future. Brilliant account of our current failing drug policy and used lots of real life examples and case studies.
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on 13 March 2016
I read this as a follow-up to Short Walks from Bogotá: Journeys in the new Colombia from the same author. It follows exactly the same formula: thoughtful, well researched and lengthy explorations of the topic from a multitude of angles, mixed in with anecdotal evidence from the author's travels. For extra convenience, the author will make sure you reach the 'right' conclusion from your reading (being that the Americans, in particular the Republican Party, are responsible for all the ills of the world). This political infusion, bordering in places on conspiracy theory, is irritating. But you know what? It doesn't matter: the book is superb. Read it.

By the way, the footnotes in the Kindle edition are largely unreadable as the last few words from each line are truncated.
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on 4 April 2014
This is a fantastic book. It is a great insight into the drug world. Especially in America.

Definitely worth a read if you are interested in how not just cocaine, but how drugs have taken over the world.
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From crack to coke, Candy Machine is the definite book to buy. Tom Feiling is passionate and he has a cool but angry way of writing that gripped me. My girlfriend was shocked that I read a 300 page book in two days!

I only have to disagree on one point. Towards the end of his excellent book, Feilding calls for cocaine to be made legal because its so popular. Everyone's doing it so what's the harm? This is the 'the damn will eventually burst anyway' argument.

This reasoning seems like common sense. But what if I said burglary should be legal because every body does it anyway?

Anyway, this is still the definite book of cocaine.
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on 2 January 2013
Very informative, delving into the heart of the matter spanning the whole world. Tom Feiling has a gift for portraying a delicate and serious topic in an understandable way.
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