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Opium: A History

3.71  ·  Rating details ·  228 Ratings  ·  30 Reviews
Known to mankind since prehistoric times, opium is arguably the oldest and most widely used narcotic. Opium: A History traces the drug's astounding impact on world culture-from its religious use by prehistoric peoples to its influence on the imaginations of the Romantic writers; from the earliest medical science to the Sino-British opium wars. And, in the present day, as t ...more
Paperback, 400 pages
Published June 12th 1999 by St. Martin's Griffin (first published 1996)
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Dec 24, 2009 rated it really liked it
I found myself alternately crazy bored and truly engaged with Booth’s narrative. Essentially he tries to cover everything regarding this subject and does an admirable job – stuffing 4.54 kilograms of crap into a five pound bag, so to speak. Whereas I was less engrossed with the quite detailed technical descriptions of opium harvesting and processing early on, budding criminal scientist types no doubt want more. Overall, the author weaves together a story encompassing addicted 18th century Brits, ...more
disappointing to a certain extent in its coverage: it begins ancient and then skips ahead to the opium wars, and then the modern period. i'd've preferred a commodity history through the medieval and early modern periods.

for what it does cover, very readable, &c.
Monty Python
Oct 16, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I picked this up after hearing it be recommended on the radio during an interview with someone who apparently was a local heroin dealer. It's one of the best and most lucid examinations of "the drug war" and how drug wars in general have played a pivotal role at various points in modern history. It's a must read. Now, if I could only find MY copy again...
Matthew Retoske
Nov 04, 2007 rated it liked it
Certain parts are simply more engaging than others, and there is certainly something lacking, but it's nonetheless a readable history

Mar 11, 2009 rated it really liked it
Read this several years ago.

I found it just fascinating. I was really engrossed by the history of the drug's spread and how it affected societies around the globe in the past.
Dec 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
After you read this book you will realize that not only is our "opiate crisis" one of our own making, but that it doesn't really have to be this way. How many more people have to die before we see the light?
Charles Lehman
Feb 21, 2018 rated it liked it
Everything you ever wanted to know about opium, and then some.
Sep 30, 2018 rated it liked it
Tedious. Wasn't sure I'd finish it.
Jul 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is a fascinating account of opium and its derivatives. Long book though... it took ages to read aloud. The most surprising thing I learned was that it was known in ancient Greek times that opium was addictive and yet....

Throughout the nineteenth century, opium was as widely used in Britain, Western Europe and America as aspirin or paracetamol are today - if not more so - and it was the main ingredient of a vast range of medicines, patent medicines and quack 'remedies'.

This too was inter
Conor McDonough
Aug 16, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Lou Reed
"For the consumer nation, opiate addiction is a major health threat, a socially destructive, crime-orientated problem which can also undermine economic and even political stability. Yet for the poppy-producing nation, opium is often the only sure means of a secure income for a large part of the population and a primary source of foreign currency for the state. The fight against drugs in one country is an attack of the well-being of another and is but a part of the eternal tussle between the deve ...more
Jan 09, 2008 rated it it was ok
As stated all over the cover, this book is well researched. Exhaustively researched, even exhaustingly researched. The editor would have benefited from being a bit more selective with his information. I think I was hoping for a little more of a writer and less of a researcher when I picked this up. In the first few chapters, Booth does a great job combining data with his own observations regarding the cultural significance of the poppy and it's poultice, but that doesn't happen nearly as much in ...more
Jul 23, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This book was really fascinating. I learned a lot of information and now finally have my facts straight about the Opium wars, Hong Kong, and the Golden Triangle and Crescent. However, I'm curious what developments have happened since publication: Oxycontin, the U.S. war in Afghanistan, etc. I ended up with more questions at the end of this book than answers.

Also, Booth's editor could have really helped him out a bit. He crams so much into each and every sentence he needs some linearizing for th
Mar 06, 2016 rated it it was ok
A decent overview of the history of opium. Booth spreads himself too thin towards the end, making for a scattershot and poor Chapter 15 especially. Also not a fan of some of the moralist/sappy tone he takes at times (he used the line "died of a broken heart" unironically for example). Actually I would have enjoyed an entire book that focused on opium and literature (depiction of by writers/influence on writers) as that seems to be Booth's real area of interest.
Feb 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: historical
This is an incredibly interesting and comprehensive history of Opium, that sometimes reads more like a biography or an adventure story than a history book. The history of Opium is full of bizaar and heinous acts, strange facts and interesting anecdotes. It is also essentially a condensed history of human nature, in a way.
This book will get you interested in history if you weren't before.
This book is extremely long winded, repeats itself often, and could be half the length or much shorter. I enjoyed some of the history and fun facts about opium but I could have done without a third or more of the book being about what at the time was current drug law. Don't at all recommend this book but if you can't find a better one on the subject then I guess go for it.
Christopher Rex
Feb 24, 2009 rated it liked it
Amazing how much one commodity shaped world history. Opium is a defining feature in the financial rise of London & Holland in the 18th - 19th Century (the banking centers of the world) and the social, moral and political decline in China from the 18th Century until the Communist Revolution in 1950. Not the most flowing story ever told, but fascinating and well-researched.
Marie Hew
Aug 11, 2009 rated it did not like it
Blah!! This is a skimmer. Not particularly interesting in the way Booth tells a sweeping and sometimes trivia-like story about a possibly very intriguing topic. I see why my school library got rid of this title.
David Ward
Opium: A History by Martin Booth (St. Martin's Press 1996) (615.32335) is a complete summary of the history, the cultivation, and the usage of the various forms of the sap of the papaver plant. My rating: 6/10, finished 3/12/14.
Aug 09, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction-ref
informative at the forefront, but then it jumped around too much, sorted in chapters by the facets and affects of opium (on history, economically, socially etc.) when it would have been easier to follow if it went through those affects chronologically.
Sep 27, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Considering this is a 90s books theres a but of drug war moralism sneaking in around the edges-but the combination of historical narrative and technical description of trade evolution makes it a useful and informative read.
May 27, 2013 rated it it was ok
Half of this book didn't need to exist. The other half was educational.
Apr 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This is a facinating look at the history of opium.
Apr 04, 2011 rated it liked it
A lot of interesting facts and information. It held my interest even in the slow sections.
Mar 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing

Fascinating history of the uses of poppy flowers.

Opium: A History
Dave Albertson
Apr 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
An excellent overview of the topic and it's a troubling topic.
James Macarthur
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Sep 21, 2012
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Aug 06, 2014
Phillip Jacobi
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Nov 25, 2010
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Apr 26, 2008
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Martin Booth was a prolific British novelist and poet. He also worked as a teacher and screenwriter, and was the founder of the Sceptre Press.