Getting High: Marijuana through the Ages

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9781442254695: Getting High: Marijuana through the Ages
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This fascinating book traces the global history of marijuana, reaching back thousands of years. Noted historian John Charles Chasteen follows the use of the drug since Neolithic times, which makes marijuana among the first domesticated plants. Surprisingly, though, only infrequently has it been used as a recreational drug. Instead, there is a vibrant spiritual dimension to its long history that has been continually ignored.

Beginning with the familiar “outbreak” of the 1960s, Chasteen unearths successive layers of marijuana’s history. Written with insight, clarity, sophistication, and good humor, this deeply informed work discusses the cultivation of cannabis and its many forms, including hemp, one of the world’s principal fiber crops. After a tour of Latin America, Africa, India, and the Muslim world, Chasteen concludes that unlike alcohol marijuana has always flourished outside the mainstream. Its principal users have been creative outsiders of many kinds—mystics, artists, musicians, free thinkers, and spiritual seekers—as well as poor laborers attracted by its low cost. Marijuana, it seems, is a mind-expanding drug after all, and Chasteen explores its rich heritage with captivating insight.

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About the Author:

John Charles Chasteen is a North Carolina writer, translator of Spanish and Portuguese, and, for twenty-five years, professor of history at UNC Chapel Hill, where he was born (on campus) in 1955. His classic Born in Blood and Fire is among the most widely read histories of Latin America in the English language. Chasteen’s abiding scholarly interest has been the emotional roots of nation and nationalism in nineteenth-century Latin America. His books on the topic include Heroes on Horseback: A Life and Times of the Last Gaucho Caudillos, National Rhythms, African Roots: A Deep History of Latin American Popular Dance , and Americanos: Latin America’s Struggle for Independence. Chasteen is also an award-winning editor and translator of Latin American fiction and non-fiction, most recently The Alienist and Other Stories of Nineteenth-Century Brazil by the Brazilian literary master Joaquim Machado de Assis and The Gaucho Juan Moreira, the classic Argentine “true crime” saga by Eduardo Gutiérrez. He has a bilingual screenplay adaptation of W. H. Hudson’s The Purple Land, if anyone knows a producer. He lives with his wife, Carmen, in the countryside near Chapel Hill.

Review:

Historian Chasteen (Born of Blood and Fire: A Concise History of Latin America) takes a succinct and engaging look at “the narrative of marijuana’s global history” over the past 2000 years. Beginning with the present day, with marijuana being smoked socially by everyone from professors to construction workers, Chasten works backwards: the early 20th century throughout the world; the 16th century, when the drug was used by Native Americans; the prevalence of hashish in the Middle East between 1100 and 1400; and the origins of cannabis in prehistoric Central Asia. By placing marijuana within larger historical patterns such as migration, colonialism, and religion, Chasteen highlights shows how the widespread use of marijuana as a recreational drug is “rare and recent” in world history, and argues that this current use has obscured “the big picture of world history,” which suggests that people have used marijuana most often as a spiritual, mind-expanding drug. Chasteen ably heightens readers’ awareness of the herb by reviewing the many ways marijuana has been used for “creative and philosophical epiphanies.” (Publishers Weekly)

Historian Chasteen examines marijuana use from a global historical perspective, situating it within the social patterns of migration, economics, colonialism, religion, and geopolitics. Throughout this concise, fascinating world journey, he compares marijuana with alcohol and considers the extent to which the recreational use of marijuana has been driven by its purported mind-expanding powers. Chasteen provides an informative backward survey of the global use of cannabis in its many forms, beginning with an account of the ruinous war on drugs in the US, before tracing marijuana’s diffusion throughout the world, and ending the story in Central Asia. He concludes that while early hunter-gatherer shamans and later mystical ascetics certainly used cannabis for spiritual reasons, its broader use as a recreational drug is more recent. Alcohol has been the preferred recreational drug for those who could afford it, whereas cannabis has been adopted primarily by the socially and ethnically marginalized, the artistically and mystically inclined, and a variety of social and religious nonconformists.... An engaging study. For criminology, deviance, and history collections.

Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. (CHOICE)

The question that opens this treasure hunt is, 'when and where did fiber hemp plants become psychoactive cannabis strains?' We all are grateful why[?] John Charles Chasteen presents a trip back in time, visiting all parts of the planet. We follow a lot of false leads but we do find an answer. This is first rate scholarship. . . .The author is telling a story that is both wide and deep. He has done an excellent job. It is something that can be built upon by the next cannabists who follow along. This book is part of an emerging trend giving the cannabis plant a fresh start after eighty years of lies and fear, the legacy of Harry J. Anslinger. One of our first tasks in a re-legalized future will be to tell the true story of the cannabis plant. This book will help us do just that. (Hail Mary Jane)

The book starts off with the history of cannabis in America. Going through the early years of America, the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 and the Drug War. After establishing a base understanding of what is going on today, Chasteen goes into the history of marijuana through the Atlantic world, Medieval times and Asian origins of Cannabis Sativa. This easy reader is full of humor, history, and insight into the complexities of the marijuana debate. (Toke Tank)

John Charles Chasteen has written the book we’ve been waiting for: the amazing tale of marijuana’s journey from ancient fiber to modern hallucinogen. Here lies the origin of cannabis and hashish, herb and weed, ganja and Maria Juana. Whirling dervishes, Indian yogis, Spanish conquistadors, Mexican herbolarias, European bohemians, and New Orleans stevedores—all play their parts in Chasteen’s tale and in the long, strange evolution of the world’s most controversial plant. (Bruce Barcott, author of Weed the People: The Future of Legal Marijuana in America)

With an economy of words, a depth of understanding that spans nearly 4,000 years, and a researcher's acumen for relevant details and a global perspective, John Chasteen delivers to the curious reader what, at first, feels like 'forbidden knowledge.' Those who might believe that the interface between humans and cannabis began in modern times—that hippies discovered the herbal drug in the 60s—will quickly be disabused by this deft botanical tour de force that perfectly punctuates humanity's long, and complicated, relationship with the cannabis plant across every continent during the whole of recorded human history. (Allen St. Pierre, executive director, NORML Foundation)

Getting High takes us on a journey back in time and across the globe from the pot smoking counterculture of 1960s America to the Scythian purification rituals of late Bronze Age Central Asia. It's a marvelous journey led by an honest, sympathetic, and engaging guide. Anyone interested in marijuana's role in society will find something new in this innovative, delightfully written book. (James A. Wood, North Carolina A&T State University)

In this wonderful book, Chasteen distills key insights from the burgeoning literature on the history of drugs and drug prohibition, raising the current debate about marijuana policy to a new level. He gives you plenty to think about no matter where you stand on the issue. (April Merleaux, Florida International University)

If the title Getting High leads you to believe that this is just another book for and about stoners, think again. John Chasteen has produced a scholarly, sophisticated, often humorous global history of marijuana (the psychoactive drug that he distinguishes from hemp fiber), which he uses as a springboard to discuss not only today’s drug and culture wars but the development of world religions, societies, and economy from prehistoric times. I recommend Getting High without reservation, especially to teachers of world history seeking a reading sure to be popular with students. (William Schell Jr., Former Director of World Civilizations, Murray State University, and author of Integral Outsiders: The American Colony in Mexico City, 1876–1911)

In this purposeful, provocative book, John Chasteen draws the present debate about marijuana into the past. Writing with an accessible style, broad sweep, and making explicit comparison between marijuana and alcohol, he provides readers—regardless of their position on the controversial herb—a panoramic global perspective on the history of this drug, striving to dispel the smoky myths that often surround it. (Bianca Premo, Florida International University)

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