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Smack: Heroin and the American City
     

Smack: Heroin and the American City

by Eric C. Schneider
 

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Why do the vast majority of heroin users live in cities? In his provocative history of heroin in the United States, Eric C. Schneider explains what is distinctively urban about this undisputed king of underworld drugs.

During the twentieth century, New York City was the nation's heroin capital—over half of all known addicts lived there, and underworld

Overview

Why do the vast majority of heroin users live in cities? In his provocative history of heroin in the United States, Eric C. Schneider explains what is distinctively urban about this undisputed king of underworld drugs.

During the twentieth century, New York City was the nation's heroin capital—over half of all known addicts lived there, and underworld bosses like Vito Genovese, Nicky Barnes, and Frank Lucas used their international networks to import and distribute the drug to cities throughout the country, generating vast sums of capital in return. Schneider uncovers how New York, as the principal distribution hub, organized the global trade in heroin and sustained the subcultures that supported its use.

Through interviews with former junkies and clinic workers and in-depth archival research, Schneider also chronicles the dramatically shifting demographic profile of heroin users. Originally popular among working-class whites in the 1920s, heroin became associated with jazz musicians and Beat writers in the 1940s. Musician Red Rodney called heroin the trademark of the bebop generation. "It was the thing that gave us membership in a unique club," he proclaimed. Smack takes readers through the typical haunts of heroin users—52nd Street jazz clubs, Times Square cafeterias, Chicago's South Side street corners—to explain how young people were initiated into the drug culture.

Smack recounts the explosion of heroin use among middle-class young people in the 1960s and 1970s. It became the drug of choice among a wide swath of youth, from hippies in Haight-Ashbury and soldiers in Vietnam to punks on the Lower East Side. Panics over the drug led to the passage of increasingly severe legislation that entrapped heroin users in the criminal justice system without addressing the issues that led to its use in the first place. The book ends with a meditation on the evolution of the war on drugs and addresses why efforts to solve the drug problem must go beyond eliminating supply.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Schneider's absorbing history of heroin's proliferation in America draws a parallel between the evolution and decline of American cities and the rise of heroin use. Rather than treating the city as a "backdrop," Schneider interprets cities as "the organizers of the world opium market," and meticulously traces heroin's ascendancy from early 20th century opium dens to the 1920s jazz milieu and into the suburbs of the late 20th century suburbs when heroin finally attracted the attention of mainstream media. He identifies cities, most notably New York, as hubs of heroin distribution, where residents often futilely attempted to save their neighborhoods from further loss of capital investment and migration to the suburbs. But as people migrated, so did the drug, and Schneider expertly shows that the fusion of the counterculture and increasing urban blight helped drive heroin into white middle class neighborhoods. Interviews with former addicts and social workers resonate amid Schneider's efficient research. At the same time he remains true to his unsentimental analysis of heroin's presence in American society, revealing the extent to which American cities are financially and socially weakened hosts to a parasitic element.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From the Publisher
"Deeply researched and briskly written, with rare photographs and biographical vignettes to keep the narrative moving along, Smack . . . is a triumph of imaginative historical scholarship, though a bittersweet one, written by someone in obvious mourning for the drug-accelerated decline of America's great cities."—Addiction

"Schneider has produced that rarest of academic commodities—a page-turner. The book is exceedingly well written, and its fascinating research and analysis are sure to make it a central text in the field."—Journal of American History

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780812241167
Publisher:
University of Pennsylvania Press, Inc.
Publication date:
10/01/2008
Series:
Politics and Culture in Modern America Series
Pages:
280
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)

Meet the Author

Eric C. Schneider is Adjunct Associate Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania and author of Vampires, Dragons, and Egyptian Kings: Youth Gangs in Postwar New York.

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