21 July, 2015

Chasing the scream: the first and last days of the war on drugs by Johann Hari

Controversial British writer and journalist Johann Hari spent three years and travelled 30,000 miles around the world to research and write this compelling history of the war on drugs through the eyes of the people who have lived it since the first prohibitive legislation was passed a hundred years ago.

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.

1 comment:

  1. What I thought was the best part of this book was that Johann Hari looked at places where the drug addicts were not treated as criminals, but as patients and given caring treatment. What a difference it can make to their lives, and the side effect of crime being vastly reduced due to the fact they no longer had to steal or prostitute themselves to get the drugs. A must read indeed!


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