Points Recommends 2016: The Best Media for Anybody Interested in Drug History

Editor’s Note: If you’re anything like me, you’re interested in intoxication and, perhaps ironically, have precious little time for entertainment. So, why not get your fix for both at once? We asked some of our contributing editors what made their best-of lists this year in books, TV, movies, music, and Web content. Not all are explicitly related to substances, but hopefully you find enough media to keep you occupied through the New Year. Points returns from its holiday hiatus on January 3. Enjoy!


Emily Dufton: There’s “Brave New Weed,” a book which claims to be “an adventure into the uncharted world of cannabis,” i.e. the author “traveling around and smoking his brains out,” as reviewer Matt Taibbi puts it. This is one of a wave of new books about pot which emphasizes the fun of the new industry, even as it outlines its pitfalls. I find many of these books a little too celebratory with Jeff Sessions as the potential new attorney general, but it’s always interesting to watch the arsenal grow.

There’s also “Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany,” which looks very good. Written by the German novelist Norman Ohler in his first dip into history, it seems accomplished: well-written, incisive, and able to shed new light on an old topic. Well, old to ADHS historians anyway; we’ve long known about the Nazis interest in uppers.

61ocjfo2zylMichael Durfee: For timely work by a powerful, honest new voice from Baltimore not-named Ta-Nehisi Coates, turn to D. Watkins.  His first work, The Beast Side: Living and Dying While Black in America is a much-needed meditation in a post-Freddie Gray Baltimore.  His second work—more germane to our interests—is entitled the Cookup: A Crack Rock Memoir—a first-person drug trade ethnography explaining what happens when a young man tracked for higher education suffers the loss of his older brother who left behind the kind of accrued wealth one might find in East Baltimore, a “starter kit” to enter the drug game.

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Anti-Narcotics as Social Critique: Earle Albert Rowell’s Crusade


Earle Albert Rowell

We are introduced to David Dare in Experiences of David Dare in Bible Research, a novel written by Earle Albert Rowell in 1933. Dare, presenting a series of lectures on biblical prophecy to a town of agnostics gradually wins over the Emersons, a local family who become convinced by Dare’s lectures and convert to Christianity. Four years later, Dare and the Emersons reappear as a team of anti-narcotics crusaders, saving a wealthy family, the Marvels, from the perils of addiction in Dope Adventures of David Dare.

Dare’s creator, Earle Albert Rowell had written several short books on religion and drugs through this period. One about the opium habit from 1929 Battling the Worlves of Socitey and another about the new scourge of marijuana in his 1939 book, On The Trail of Marihuana. Described by his publishers as a well traveled anti-narcotics crusader, a member of the White Cross International Anti-Narcotics Society. He and his son Robert, Earle’s opium pipe in hand, had criss-crossed the country educating the public about narcotics and writing about his work.

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The Points Interview: Richard Grace

Editor’s Note: Today’s interviewee, Dr. Richard J. Grace, is Professor Emeritus of History at Providence College. His book, Opium and Empire: The Lives and Careers of William Jardine and James Mathseon (Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 2014; paperback edition, 2015) will soon be available in Chinese from Beijing United Publishing Co.


Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand. And what do you think a bunch of alcohol and drug historians might find particularly interesting about it?

Opium and Empire explores the lives and careers of two of the most influential British merchants  in East Asia in the first half of the nineteenth century. These Scots, William Jardine (1784-1843) and James Matheson (1796-1878), operated a partnership at Canton (now Guangzhou), trading in various commodities,  and engaging in insurance, shipping, and finance. Their most important commodity was opium, which was illegal in China. For the most part they served as agents for investors far afield, especially in India, by marketing their opium for a fee, to buyers in the Gulf of Canton. The Chinese buyers would smuggle the cargoes of opium ashore, sometimes with the connivance of local government authorities.

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The Points Interview: Michael Lewis

Editor’s Note: Today’s interview is with Dr. Michael Lewis, author of the new book, The Coming of Southern Prohibition (out now from LSU Press). He is an assistant professor of sociology at Christopher Newport University. Contact Dr. Lewis at mlewis@cnu.edu. 


Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

The Coming of Southern Prohibition is a story about profit from liquor sales- who gets it and how the government sometimes uses morality and fear to make rules to ensure they get more of it. In 1892 South Carolina’s Governor Benjamin Tillman did just that, creating a statewide system of liquor stores that kept all the liquor profits for the state and county government. The subsequent decisions that South Carolina counties made about how many liquor stores they should permit and where these ought to be located were influenced as much by the chances of increasing profit than they were by preventing
alcohol sales to the “riff-raff” of society.

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Probably Not Secrecy, Based on the Minutes of a 1942 Meeting

Editor’s Note: Today’s post is provided by alcohol scholar Ron Roizen and was originally available on his blog. The author would like to thank Paul Roman, Tom Babor, Gabor Kelemen, and anonymous reviewers for comments on an earlier draft.

Yale Summer School of Alcohol Studies, Summer Seminar, 1943

A single, seemingly inconsequential document has shed a little new light on an old mystery.

But first, a little background.


In 1993 I presented a paper at the Alcohol and Temperance History Group’s international conference in London, Ontario, Canada (Roizen, 1993).  The paper’s full title was, “Paradigm Sidetracked:  Explaining Early Resistance to the Alcoholism Paradigm at Yale’s Laboratory of Applied Physiology, 1940-1944.”  I saw it as a continuation of the historical story I’d recounted in my dissertation, completed just two years earlier (Roizen, 1991).  My dissertation had taken the early history of the “modern alcoholism movement” and the so-called “new scientific approach to alcohol” from Repeal (in 1933) to what I regarded as a pivotal historical moment in 1939.  What particularly interested me about the new Yale-based alcohol science group, in the following 1940-1944 period, was its preference for a quite different paradigm, namely an “alcohol problems” paradigm, over an “alcoholism” paradigm.  That same preference, I argued in my paper, revealed how fragile and open-ended paradigmatic evolution was in the alcohol social arena in this period.   The post-Repeal ascendancy of the alcoholism paradigm, as Yale’s experience from 1940-1944 showed, was anything but a foregone and ineluctable historical inevitability.  This was meaty stuff for my larger project – namely, my attempt at a sociological reconstruction of the development of a new scientific specialty around alcohol in the U.S. in the aftermath of Repeal.

Guido R. Rahr, Yale Class of 1925 photo

In the course of researching my “Paradigm Sidetracked” paper I delved a little into the longstanding mystery surrounding the Yale alcohol group’s sources of funding support.  The issue wasn’t central to my investigation, but – and in due course – it would take on added significance in a special way, which significance I’ll briefly discuss in the concluding section of this report.  In any case, I got very lucky.  My query about the group’s funding to the Yale University Library resulted in a welcome reply letter from library staff member Susan Brady, enclosing four illuminating documents.   These were four letters written in 1943 (see L-1, L-2, L-3, & L-4), the substance of which included revelatory discussions of two salient subjects: (a) the handling of outside donations to the Yale alcohol group’s then-new Summer School of Alcohol Studies and (b) the generosity of one Guido R. Rahr.  Rahr, these letters showed, was a generous backer of the Summer School and other enterprises at Yale’s alcohol group.  L-2, from Rahr to Haggard, revealed that Rahr was supporting the School at a rate of $5,000 per month for three months — summing to $15,000 (or about $208,000 in 2016 dollars).  These amounts, wrote Rahr, would “…completely cover the work which you are undertaking.”  L-3, from Haggard to Yale University Secretary Carl Lohmann, noted that Rahr had supplied substantial contributions in the past for the support of the alcohol group’s periodical, the Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol (QJSA), which commenced publication in 1940.

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New Developments at the ADHS

Editor’s note: We at Points are thrilled to announce new developments concerning the Alcohol and Drug History Society. Today’s post was provided by Noelle Plack, the organization’s secretary-treasurer, and Virginia Berridge, its president. For more information, check out the society homepage at https://alcoholanddrugshistorysociety.org. Over the past 18 months there have been several exciting developments at …

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Quarrelsome Cannabis in the UK: Evidence from Canada and Elsewhere

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes courtesy of Luc Richert (lucas.richert@strath.ac.uk). It was originally featured on Active History Canada. In September the All Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy Reform in the UK stated there was “good evidence” cannabis could help alleviate the symptoms of several health conditions, including chronic pain and anxiety. According to Professor …

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