Papaver somniferum (opium poppy) has a long and fascinating history. This book covers the relationship between humanity and opiates, from cultivation in ancient times until the heroin trade today.
Although the topic is very interesting, I found the book difficult to read. The writing style was not engaging enough for me. I don’t often read a ‘proper’ history book, so maybe the genre is the issue. However, annoyingly long paragraphs, clunky sentences and a lot of statistics made it feel like a chore to read sometimes.
I did admire the depth of the author’s research and the range of issues explored. I did learn a lot and I now have a better understanding of how opium is linked to so many other aspects of our history. There are some well-chosen images too. Ultimately, however, I didn’t enjoy the book as much as I anticipated. I thought it was going to be a cultural history, perhaps with more of a focus on the arts, but it’s really about economics and politics (which I can’t pretend to understand well). I’m not sure who the target audience is. It’s not a book for beginners in history, as there are many references which the author expects you to know. On the other hand, it’s not a book for history buffs either, as there are too many bits of general history which you’re guaranteed to know already. Probably it will be of most use to students of the history of medicine.
First published in 2018.