Cover image for Opium : a history
Opium : a history
Booth, Martin.
Personal Author:
First St. Martin's Griffin edition.
Publication Information:
New York : St. Martin's Griffin, 1999.

Physical Description:
xii, 381 pages ; 21 cm
General Note:
Originally published: London : Simon & Schuster, 1996.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HV5816 .B66 1996C Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Known to mankind since prehistoric times, opium is arguably the oldest and most widely used narcotic. Opium: A History traces the drug's astounding impact on world culture-from its religious use by prehistoric peoples to its influence on the imaginations of the Romantic writers; from the earliest medical science to the Sino-British opium wars. And, in the present day, as the addict population rises and penetrates every walk of life, Opium shows how the international multibillion-dollar heroin industry operates with terrifying efficiency and forms an integral part of the world's money markets.

In this first full-length history of opium, acclaimed author Martin Booth uncovers the multifaceted nature of this remarkable narcotic and the bittersweet effects of a simple poppy with a deadly legacy.

Author Notes

Martin Booth (September 7, 1944-February 12, 2004) was a prolific British novelist and poet. He also worked as a teacher and screenwriter, and was the founder of the Sceptre Press. Booth died after an 18-month struggle with cancer in 2004.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Booth recounts the history of opium and its derivatives, including heroin. But he focuses on the contribution that Western empire building and mercantile expansion made to illicit drug trafficking, from Britain's imposition of opium on China through the current poppy trade centered in Southeast Asia. Booth insists that Western nations must bear substantial responsibility for the world's current drug crisis. However, he also notes that many indigenous populations were exposed to drug use prior to their exposure to Western colonizers, using drugs primarily to provide medicinal and psychological relief from extreme living conditions. Many readers may be surprised to learn that opiates were in common usage in the U.S. from the American Revolution through the Civil War and well into the twentieth century. The earlier user profile was predominantly white, often female, and included infants who were prescribed opiates as a calming aid. The history is fascinating, but readers will be equally compelled by the contextual clarity Booth gives to the economic, political, and cultural cross-currents at the root of our current international drug crisis. --Vernon Ford

Publisher's Weekly Review

A novelist (Hiroshima Joe) and nonfiction writer (Opium: A History), Booth is a British author too little known here. This very strong book, shortlisted for the Booker Prize last year, should introduce him to discriminating readers. As in Hiroshima Joe, the hero is an ordinary man thrust into a forgotten corner of history, who becomes a player in an extraordinary situation. Alexander Bayliss was a British businessman on a visit to the Soviet Union in the 1950s when he was arrested as a spy and sent into the Siberian gulag. Now, on his 80th birthday, he has become a cherished fixture in the tiny Russian village where he went to live after his release with the daughter of one of his dear companions of the gulag, who had died in a mining accident. Known to the peasants as Shurik, he has been the village schoolteacher, an angel of enlightenment who has helped open the eyes of some of the local children to a wider world. But his identity has at last been discovered; the British Embassy in Moscow has sent a car, and a long-forgotten cousin is on his way to meet him. Shurik/Bayliss must decide: what is he to do with what remains of his life? The book is at once a poignantly lyrical portrait of his life in Myshkino (as if the Russian countryside in summer were seen through the eyes of an English nature poet) and a harrowing account of his life as a zekÄone of the countless thousands of political prisoners who toiled in inhumanly brutal conditions in the Arctic wastes. That life also brought undying comradeship of a kind that makes conventional friendships seem tame, and in one unforgettable scene Bayliss has to make a terrible choice for his dearest friend. In another indelible passage, his little crew is sent to uncover a woolly mammoth long frozen in the ice. Through it all, Bayliss is a model of modest goodness and tenderness, one of the most lovable creations in recent fiction. His story is at once horrifying and deeply affecting, a paean to what is eternal in the Russian spiritÄand the work of a sharp-eyed humanist whose powers are at full stretch. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Booth, a writer of novels, films, and documentaries, spent many years living in the Far East and speaks with authority on the worldly impact of one of its most profound and infamous exports. Opium is arguably the first drug discovered by humans. The author carefully documents its transition from a substance of medicinal value to a vehicle for pleasant fantasies. The boundary between its medicinal value and its narcotic effect could be too easily crossed, as patients were tempted to use it to alter perceptions of reality rather than to ease the pain of malady or surgery, and then discovery of the drug's euphoric side effects led to a craving of the substance for itself. As these addicts began to demand the drug in quantities beyond their needs or means, the specter of criminal activity surfaced. Booth explores in detail the link between addiction and crime and the transformation of the trade in opium (and its popular derivative, heroin) into big business. An excellent historical treatment of the development, use, and misuse of the drug, as well as of society's efforts to control it; recommended for all libraries.‘Phillip Young Blue, New York State Supreme Court Criminal Branch Lib., New York (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Booth has created a fascinating history for readers with holistic interests in opium. In addition to providing a description of the mechanics of opium production and harvesting, he treats the reader to an equally intriguing discourse on the role of opium in the politics, economics, and social life of producing countries. Booth uses the final chapter to summarize critical points that make clear the probable futility of eradicating illicit use of opium and its derivatives worldwide and to make potentially viable alternative suggestions. Despite the fascinating nature of the content, the various strengths and weaknesses of the book both limit and enhance its usefulness to various reader groups. The individual reading the text purely from personal interest is not required to negotiate through reference citations but may get lost in the substantial detail. That same detail will delight the scholar interested in developing in-depth understanding. However, because the book lacks detailed referencing, it will be of limited utility for the academician; the bibliography will not be a sufficient substitute. For the beginning student in the field of addictions and substance abuse, Booth's history will be an invaluable resource. General readers; undergraduates. T. D. DeLapp; University of Alaska, Anchorage