The book focuses on the US, where the war on drugs has helped quadruple the US prison population since 1980, but also explores the ramifications of US policy throughout the Americas and beyond.
The stories that Hari tells, from the persecution of American jazz singer Billie Holiday to the brutal life of a transsexual crack dealer on the streets of Brooklyn, are a testament to his skills as a researcher and talent as a journalist. His writing is unflinching to the point of uncomfortable; readers will not soon forget his recounting of a female prisoner who “cooked” to death in a cage in the Arizona heat whilst prison guards wandered past.
The science of hard drugs has been told before, and there are many prison-reform books on the shelves, but Hari weaves the science and the reform into the narrative of people’s lives to present this story in a way that is novel and riveting. From presidents of South American countries to homeless addicts all but invisible to history, from heads of government correctional departments to prisoners lost in the system, Hari shows the pervasive influence of the war on drugs on all their lives.
This is a book that debunks myths, challenges assumptions and rewrites tired old political clichés. If you think you understand drugs, addiction and their influence on society, pause to read Chasing the scream and see how much your opinion has changed by the final page.
Title: Chasing the scream: the first and last days of the war on drugs
Author: Johann Hari
Reviewed by Nick K, Ranui Library
Nick K enjoys reading crime fiction, demonological adult and young adult fiction, classic children’s fiction like Arthur Ransome and picture books, especially those illustrated by Quentin Blake. He hates reality TV.