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Drugged: The Science and Culture Behind…

Drugged: The Science and Culture Behind Psychotropic Drugs

by Richard J. Miller

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Despite glaring issues, this book has still earned four stars.

Shall we start with the issues?

First, it is poorly edited. I would expect better from OUP. If this book is to live up to its full potential, such things as errors in punctuation, missing words, and inconsistencies in the explanatory figures peppering the text must be resolved.

Second, Miller includes two epistles which are each presented as being from one famous individual to another. While the information contained in them seems, to the best of my often faulty knowledge, accurate, I couldn't track down any record of these letters actually existing. A single note addresses that two paragraphs of one letter were adapted from an actual letter, implying perhaps that the rest was written by Miller. This makes me wonder if Miller didn't pen the first himself as well. Used as literary devices for furthering the layout of his book, such letters are totally acceptable; what is less acceptable is failing to make it more thoroughly clear that these are fictional/semi-fictional letters. Maybe, however, I have simply misunderstood.

Third, Miller is clearly a professor of pharmacology and not a writer. This is okay and to be expected, but it made for choppy and silly style from time to time.

"But Turambar," you ask, "how can you possibly justify four stars‽"

Well, I almost didn't rate this book highly. Then I realized I loved every moment of reading it, despite the issues, and felt that I had learned more in 300 pages (and change) than I had for a long time. This book fills what I perceive to be a problematic void. Too often, science writing is either too technical to follow for the uninitiated or too simple to be of any use. I have run across too few book-length writings which fall in between the two extremes. I believe that this book, however, caters to laypeople without insulting them. I have only a basic education in biology and chemistry, but felt that I rigorously understood the vast majority of the scientific side of Miller's explorations. Not only did I understand, but Miller kept me fascinated the entire way through.

What's more, Miller synthesizes the science and culture of the drugs he explores, just as the subtitle promises. This is an important move because developments in drug chemistry affect the culture which then affects drug chemistry once more. Plus, we always stand to benefit when we gain interdisciplinary understanding of a topic, so I was thrilled by Miller's approach.

In summary, expect some frustrations but absolutely read this book if you are at all interested in recreational drugs, medical drugs, or the relationship between the two. ( )
  Turambar | Aug 16, 2016 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0199957975, Hardcover)

"Morphine," writes Richard J. Miller, "is the most significant chemical substance mankind has ever encountered." So ancient that remains of poppies have been found in Neolithic tombs, it is the most effective drug ever discovered for treating pain. "Whatever advances are made in medicine," Miller adds, "nothing could really be more important than that." And yet, when it comes to mind-altering substances, morphine is only a cc or two in a vast river that flows through human civilization, ranging LSD to a morning cup of tea.

In DRUGGED, Miller takes readers on an eye-opening tour of psychotropic drugs, describing the various kinds, how they were discovered and developed, and how they have played multiple roles in virtually every culture. The vast scope of chemicals that cross the blood-brain barrier boggle the very brain they reach: cannabis and cocaine, antipsychotics and antidepressants, alcohol, amphetamines, and Ecstasy-and much more. Literate and wide-ranging, Miller weaves together science and history, telling the story of the undercover theft of 20,000 tea plants from China by a British spy, for example, the European discovery of coffee and chocolate, and how James Wolfgang von Goethe, the famous man of letters, first isolated the alkaloid we now know as caffeine. Miller explains what scientists know-and don't-about the impact of each drug on the brain, down to the details of neurotransmitters and their receptors. He clarifies the differences between morphine and heroin, mescaline and LSD, and other similar substances. Drugged brims with surprises, revealing the fact that antidepressant drugs evolved from the rocket fuel that shot V2 rockets into London during World War II, highlighting the role of hallucinogens in the history of religion, and asking whether Prozac can help depressed cats.

Entertaining and authoritative, Drugged is a truly fascinating book.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:48 -0400)

Miller takes readers on an eye-opening tour of psychotropic drugs, describing the various kinds, how they were discovered and developed, and how they have played multiple roles in virtually every culture.

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