Sadie Plant, a scholar of cultural studies in Britain and author of Zeros + Ones, has put together an entertainingly meandering social history of controlled substances in Writing on Drugs. Accessible to even the most uninitiated, Plant's latest work examines how drugs have shaped world economics, politics, and (of course) literature in the past several hundred years.
Ranging from the anecdotal to the scientific, Writing on Drugs cites some of the literary world's most noted personalities and their love/hate relationships with mind-altering chemicals. Thomas de Quincey, William Burroughs, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Mary Shelley, Wilkie Collins, Antonin Artaud and others make cameo appearances in a volume that illuminates just how intertwined drugs have been and are with modern culture both philosophically and practically. The quest to open up hidden avenues of the human mind most often becomes a haunting cycle of addiction that leaves as much undiscovered as it uncovers.
Plant's conclusions flirt with the thin line between objectivity and judgmentalism, and her facts tease with their truths. Opium and hashish, crack and peyote all see attention here, from their histories to their effects on human consciousness. Plant shows how they seem to satisfy creative cravings but leave their experimenters wanting (and often needing) more, and what neurochemical pathways each utilizes, without ever veering off into technical confusion. Structured in the form of a well-informed musing, Writing on Drugs is a fascinating glimpse into the psychotropic underpinnings of the world that everyone, user or not, calls home.