A history of friends in high places

I recently indulged in the outrageous luxury of placing an international order for the book High Society: Mind-Altering Drugs in History and Culture by Mike Jay and I’m very glad I did.

If you want to get a feel for the sort of thing it tackles, the author has a fantastic video where he discusses the history of opium use and how the British in the 1800s were doing exactly the same as the modern day cocaine cartels do now.

It is an incisive and eye-opening history of society and its highs, as well as being wonderfully illustrated on almost every page.

In fact, it’s so beautiful it could almost be one of those expensive coffee table books but it also has the advantage of being shot through with a compelling narrative about how drug use developed in the world’s diverse cultures.

And it really is breathtakingly diverse in its scope – tackling everything from Native Americans and their use of the hallucinogenic cactus peyote, to the black sweet tea enjoyed in the Arabian peninsula, to loved-up urban clubbers popping ecstasy, to the enthusiasm for betel nut in the Far East, to.. well, you get the idea.

The book has been published in conjunction with an exhibition of the same name, currently showing at London’s Wellcome Collection, but it more than holds its own.

It’s a compulsive, colourful journey through one of the world’s favourite pass-times and definitely worth checking out if you’ve ever had an interest in how we tweak and have tweaked the brain’s reality settings.

Link to book details on publisher’s website.
Link to excellent 10 minute video on the history of opium.


  1. Posted November 29, 2010 at 1:42 am | Permalink

    sounds a really intresting book so people were up to the same kinds of things erly on would probably be an intresting read

  2. Chris
    Posted November 29, 2010 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

    Sounds like a interesting book. Another one worth checking out is Dale Pendell’s Pharmako-Poeia and other 2 Volumes. Great poetic look into psychoactive chemicals and plants.

  3. Posted November 30, 2010 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

    Added to my wishlist! Thanks

  4. Madhavi
    Posted December 13, 2010 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    I just ordered this book based *only* on your recommendation, I hope its worth it! :)

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