cover image Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs

Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs

Johann Hari. Bloomsbury, $27 (400p) ISBN 978-1-62040-890-2

In his first book, journalist Hari takes readers on a historical tour of the devastation wrought by the global war on drugs, beginning at the turn of the 20th century with Harry Anslinger, the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, and Arnold Rothstein, the Prohibition-era kingpin of New York. Hari dutifully documents the individual lives encroached on by the war on drugs, from the addicts made into pariahs by the zealousness of Anslinger’s acolytes to the Brooklyn corner boys and Mexican cartels whose violence continues to destroy communities, as well as the doctors ruined by the quixotic struggle to enact meaningful reform and research. Hari’s investigation leads him to research labs conducting experiments that challenge the classic pharmaceutical model of addiction, presenting more complex theories that see addiction as symptomatic of larger sociological and psychological issues and argue that addiction is both less serious and more treatable than the antidrug lobby claims. Eventually coming to the belief that the best strategy is to “legalize drugs stage by stage, and use the money we currently spend on punishing addicts to fund compassionate care instead,” Hari ends his journey in Uruguay, Portugal, and Switzerland, where successful movements to legalize and decriminalize drugs offer hope for the future. Hari has made a stimulating hybrid of a book—simultaneously a readable history of the war on drugs and a powerful case for radical reform. Agent: Richard Pine, Inkwell Management. (Jan.)