Wednesday, November 17, 2010

High Society

History is oddly predictable, like a vast catalogue, oscillating between the extraordinary peaks of human existence and the seamier, squalid, pestiferous decline into the gutter. Like the man said, some days are good, some days are bad, life's highs and life's lows. From our humble morning coffee, to the exotic betel nut quids produced in south east Asia, drugs are inexplicably woven into the warp and weft of all evolving societies. "High Society, Mind-Altering Drugs in History and Culture" is an absorbing and detailed account of the cultural pursuit of 'getting high', the quest to alter our minds in significant but controllable ways. This fascinating survey examines and traces the development of substances utilized to change our perception and consciousness, forming a comprehensive study of the historical and cultural impact of drugs within society.  The book examines the medical, recreational, spiritual, religious and economic use of drugs and chronicles the progressive discovery and development of  each mind expanding 'pharmaceutical'.  Tracing a lineage from the Ebers Papyrus [the oldest known Egyptian medical text, which described the 'analgesic' properties of the roots, seeds and head of the poppy] to the development of a global drug trade, this beautifully illustrated book elucidates the history of intoxicants with layer upon layer of meticulously researched material. What is particularly striking about the book is its ordinariness, its lack of moralizing and the authors ability to tread a scholarly path through the hallucinatory discourse of oppositional arguments for and against drug use.  Highly informative, always engaging, Mike Jay has produced a wonderfully detailed book which offers exquisite observations on a difficult and controversial subject.

I am deeply indebted to the publishers, Thames & Hudson, for supporting the blog by generously sending a review copy.

1 comment:

Andrew said...

I dropped into the exhibition at the Wellcome on a recent trip to London. It was fantastic and I really recommend a visit. The book is a scholarly and informative read, but is at somewhat remote from the visual impact many of the exhibits make in person. The Joshua Light Show is marvelous, as your previous post illustrates, but in the gallery one can walk around the back and see the projectors, slides and oil wheels. Personally, that was a real Wizard of Oz moment, only Oz actually was all powerful.

Always great to read your stuff.