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Chasing the Scream summary

The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs

4.6 (39 ratings)
17 mins

Brief summary

Chasing the Scream by Johann Hari is a non-fiction book that examines the history and impact of the war on drugs. It exposes the failures of the current approach and advocates for a more compassionate and evidence-based approach to addiction and drug use.

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    Chasing the Scream
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    The War on Drugs was born in America and pushed onto other countries.

    The effort to curb illegal drug use and crack down on dealers, otherwise known as the War on Drugs, has come to seem so natural that we’re unfazed by stories about major drug busts in the news. Stacks of confiscated money and drugs and weapons: we barely bat an eye.

    But the beginnings of this “war” were surprisingly different from how it is carried on today.

    As late as the early twentieth century, those drugs we’ve come to categorize as illicit were actually freely available in some form throughout the world.

    For example, you could leave the pharmacy with a bulging bag of medicine that incorporated drugs like heroin and cocaine. A refreshing sip of Coca-Cola contained ingredients extracted from the coca plant, the source of cocaine, and fashionable department stores in Britain even sold tins of heroin for high-society women.

    That all changed, however, in 1914, when the United States began prohibiting the sale and use of drugs. But why the sudden change?

    The outbreak of WWI, combined with rapid industrialization, drove Americans to seek an outlet for the anxiety and aggression caused by their fast-changing world.

    Drugs – tangible objects that could be destroyed – seemed the perfect scapegoat for the less tangible ills of modernity, such as class tension, displacement and changing customs.

    But the eventual hard-line, worldwide prohibition of drugs was due to the concentrated effort of one man: Harry Anslinger, first chief of the US Federal Bureau of Narcotics, from 1930 to 1962, and primary proponent of the War on Drugs.

    During his tenure as Bureau chief, Anslinger noticed that drugs kept flowing into the US even as he zealously cracked down on them. He suspected that communists were deliberately smuggling drugs into the country, hoping to use drug addiction as a means of undermining America’s military and economic strength.

    So, in the 1950s, he took his case to the United Nations, where, by leveraging American geopolitical dominance, he successfully convinced the other member nations to adopt prohibition policies.

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    What is Chasing the Scream about?

    Chasing the Scream (2015) gives a riveting account of the first hundred years of the disastrously ineffective War on Drugs. Weaving together fascinating anecdotes, surprising statistics and passionate argumentation, Hari examines the history of the War on Drugs and explains why it’s time to rethink addiction, rehabilitation and drug enforcement.

    Chasing the Scream Review

    Chasing the Scream (2015) is a thought-provoking exploration of the failed war on drugs, shedding light on the true causes of addiction and proposing alternative solutions. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • It unveils compelling evidence and research that challenges conventional wisdom, allowing readers to rethink their understanding of addiction.
    • Through intimate stories and interviews, the book reveals the devastating human cost of the war on drugs, making it a powerful call to action.
    • With its nuanced analysis of the complex issues surrounding addiction, the book manages to captivate readers and keeps them invested in its pages.

    Best quote from Chasing the Scream

    Fact: When Thailand refused to ban opium smoking because it was a longstanding tradition, Harry Anslingers team threatened to cut off American foreign aid until the country complied.

    —Johann Hari
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    Who should read Chasing the Scream?

    • Anyone interested in drugs and drug enforcement
    • People who know someone struggling with drug addiction
    • Those considering moving to California just for the medical marijuana card

    About the Author

    Johann Hari is an author and journalist who has contributed to publications such as The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Guardian and The New Republic, among many others. He is also the author of God Save the Queen?, a humorous critique of the British monarchy.

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    Chasing the Scream FAQs 

    What is the main message of Chasing the Scream?

    The main message of Chasing the Scream is that the war on drugs is a failure and we need to rethink our approach to addiction and drug policy.

    How long does it take to read Chasing the Scream?

    The reading time for Chasing the Scream varies depending on the reader's speed, but it typically takes several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Chasing the Scream a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Chasing the Scream is a thought-provoking book that challenges our beliefs about addiction and offers insights into alternative approaches. It's definitely worth a read.

    Who is the author of Chasing the Scream?

    Johann Hari is the author of Chasing the Scream.

    What to read after Chasing the Scream?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Chasing the Scream, here are some recommendations we suggest:
    • Narconomics by Tom Wainwright
    • Lost Connections by Johann Hari
    • This Is Your Mind on Plants by Michael Pollan
    • Anatomy of an Epidemic by Robert Whitaker
    • Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
    • Mindset by Carol Dweck
    • Impromptu by Reid Hoffman with GPT-4
    • Agile Selling by Jill Konrath
    • Stolen Focus by Johann Hari
    • How to Talk to Anyone by Leil Lowndes