The Pursuit of Oblivion

A Global History of Narcotics

Richard Davenport-Hines (Author)

Overview | Inside the Book

A startling account of the history of drug abuse, this book forces us to reconsider many of our views on a controversial issue.

Spanning five centuries and several continents in a sweeping portrait of addiction, The Pursuit of Oblivion traces the history of the use and abuse of narcotics, revealing their subtle transformation from untested medicines to sources of idle pleasure and, relatively recently, to illegal substances. Richard Davenport-Hines, an eminent, prize-winning historian, uncovers the centrality of drug abuse in our modern industrial society, from the drug habits of Charles Dickens and John F. Kennedy to today's $400 billion annual worldwide trade in illicit drugs (the same volume as the oil industry). A vivid portrayal of the people and events that have shaped the history of narcotics, The Pursuit of Oblivion reveals that, contrary to the assumption underlying current drug policies, our need to escape reality and our body's need for physical pleasure are both ineradicable aspects of our humanity, unchangeable by government initiative.

Book Details

  • Paperback
  • March 2004
  • ISBN 978-0-393-32545-4
  • 5.6 × 8.2 in / 592 pages
  • Sales Territory: Worldwide excluding Canada and the British Commonwealth.

Endorsements & Reviews

“A good read: lively, anecdotal, and written with the reader in mind.” — D.M. Fahey, Choice

“Factually detailed and rich in anecdote.” — Boston Phoenix

“Accomplished with authority and flair.” — Virginia Quarterly Review

“A well-drawn, comprehensive account of a troubling subject.” — Kirkus Reviews

“Highly extremely impressive work.” — Christine Keneally, The New York Times

“His book is a technical triumph: well researched, well-written, well presented. . . . Moreover, it is convincing.” — Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, The Independent

“An impressively researched and exhaustive volume...[that] should be considered definitive.” — San Diego Union Tribune

“Pragmatic and persuasive, full of fascinating lore and intelligent interpretation... overwhelming evidence and penetrating analysis.” — Boston Globe

“A stern and sustained history...first-rate scholarship...a powerful indictment of mostly failed policy.” — Washington Post

“The most important study on this subject in years, perhaps ever.” — Phillip Knightley, Sunday Times [London]

“America has exported bad drug policy since the Civil War, the book shows.” — The Week

“[A] highly literate and readable author who is thoroughly conversant with the international and intercontinental aspects of drug policy.” — Philip Jenkins, author of Synthetic Panics

“An amazing, knock-your-socks-off book, argued with depth and cunning....A stunning and vital book.” — James R. Kincaid, Aerol Arnold Professor of English, University of Southern California

“The best general account of the subject...thoroughly researched and expertly written.” — Roy Porter, Literary Review

“Starred Review. A sharply opinionated history of drugs...encyclopedic in scope and varied in perspective...difficult to dismiss.” — Publishers Weekly

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