Cocaine: An Unauthorized Biography Paperback – Jul 1 2003
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Cocaine, writes filmmaker Dominic Streatfeild, "is not some evil spawn of Satan but simply a commodity." Like other commodities, cocaine has a history. When the Spanish conquistadors came to South America and observed that Indians who chewed the leaves of Erythroxylon coca could, it seemed, march over the tallest mountain or through the densest forest for days on end, they knew they were onto something. The newcomers took to growing coca themselves, and in time their product found an audience outside the continent, with users such as Sigmund Freud, Ernest Shackleton (who "took Forced March cocaine tablets to Antarctica in 1909 for the energy boost they gave"), Duke Ellington, and, eventually, half of Hollywood to testify to its powers. Streatfeild's appropriately rapid narrative takes in such key moments and players as "the year of cocaine" 1969, when the film Easy Rider reintroduced the drug to American popular culture, and George Jung, whose exploits are chronicled in Ted Demme's film Blow, to create a portrait of the drug that ranges over centuries. Though he supports legalization, Streatfeild acknowledges the evil and corruption surrounding the trade. Drawing lessons from history, he also suggests the possibility that "cocaine will fizzle out in the year 2015 the way it did in the early twentieth century." At the close of this absorbing book, he adds, "It deserves to." --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Boil off Streatfeild's informal tone a mix of self-deprecation and gonzo-journalist swagger and what's left is a fascinating and richly detailed story of the world's most notorious drug and an illicit $92-billion-a-year industry. Streatfeild, a British documentary film producer, visits its every outpost, from Bronx crack houses and Amazonian coca plantations to Bolivian prisons and the compounds of South American drug lords. He launches the story with a history of the coca leaf and its prominent place in both ancient and contemporary consciousness, tackling race, poverty, class, violence, mythology and xenophobia as seen through the prism of cocaine. There are countless strands to the story, and Streatfeild follows every one: the rise of the Colombian cartels, government collusion with traffickers, the crack phenomenon, media hype, the U.S. war on drugs and the legalization debate. The author lights up the myriad figures who feature in cocaine's history: Columbus, Freud, Pablo Escobar, Manuel Noriega, George Jung, even Richard Pryor and the late basketball star Len Bias. He picks the brains of botanists and economists, lawmen and guerrillas, addicts and kingpins, and travels extensively throughout the Americas. The main drawback: Streatfeild's insistence that the reader be privy to superfluous research details such as fizzled leads, false starts, wrong turns and boring authors. In the end, though, Streatfeild delivers a straight tale about a world where nothing is as it seems.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
While I feel that I came away from this book having learned a great deal, I still think the author should have touched a bit more on the involvement of the CIA and other government agencies in the cocaine trade. (Although they were mentioned in great detail regarding Iran Contra) Overall, the book read very slowly, but the end result was worth it--I'd recommend this book to people who want to learn about a topic they never thought much about, but, beware: Patience is a must!
Fast forward to present day. The natives are still chewing coca, but instead of mining silver, their harvesting their favorite leaf, converting it to a crude paste, and selling it to narco-traffickers who then make it into pure or almost pure cocaine. Of course, this is illegal, and the United States in particular has a bone to pick about the leaf (unless it's being used for one of its few legitimate purposes - such as flavoring coca-cola, which it is STILL used for, despite popular belief). But people want their cocaine. That's why we've got the drug war. Yes, the drug war is very very stupid. And Streatfield never misses an opportunity to drive this point home. Hard.
I like this book. It has a plethora of trivia that's actually worth knowing, and it provides a new context to several historical events. But I don't really like Dominic Streatfeild. I get the feeling that if I met him I'd have to constantly force myself to smile. Awkward. He's like a nerdy Sherlock Holmes. His plot development techniques get a bit formulaic. I got very tired of paragraphs beginning with questions such as "And then what happened?" followed by him answering his own question.Read more ›
The amount of detail in this book is staggering as Streatfield has spent a lot of time researching materials as well as tracking down individuals around the globe. Statistics are liberally used to drive home his points. For example, in the 1980's the Miami Federal Reserve Bank had an unexpected surplus of US $5.5 Billion. This was more than all of the other 11 Federal Reserve Banks combined. The book is full of statistics like this that demonstrate the scale of impact of cocaine.
In addition to the facts and figures, we are introduced to some fascinating characters on this journey. We learn of Sigmund Freud's addiction to cocaine (there are some who believe that his great work would have not been possible without cocaine), the American distributor George Jung (popularized in the movie Blow), super narco-terrorist Pablo Escobar and his ilk and many others. Some characters are superfluous (i.e. Freud) but others are more central to machinations of the cocaine industry and their impact is thoroughly explored (i.e. George Jung, Carlos Ledher).
If there is a con in the book, it is that some chapters are not labeled as properly as they could be.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
An extremely thorough history of cocaine and all the working parts that went into its discovery, use, and injection into popular culture. Read morePublished 11 months ago by Mitch Orchard
This book really surprised me. It starts with how coca is a part of pre-conquested South American culture and talks about its part during spanish colonization, extraction /... Read morePublished on May 27 2010 by Jennifer Der
This is truly one of the finest books I have read in a long time. Streatfeild starts with the background of Cocaine, how it came in to existence in the western world, what it is,... Read morePublished on Jan. 10 2003 by Kenneth Hartog
I picked this book up randomly at Heathrow Airport. I've been wanting to read that history of salt book and figured that this would be an okay second choice. Read morePublished on Aug. 13 2002 by K. E Pearce
Streatfield treats us to a well-researched saga of a nondescript plant turned worldwide scourge.
The harmless looking coca plant was a staple of native South American... Read more
Streatfield has written a very interesting account of the history of cocaine from its use in the Andes thousands of years ago to the present day. Read morePublished on June 24 2002