The best books about the war on drugs

4 authors have picked their favorite books about the war on drugs and why they recommend each book.

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Poppies, Politics, and Power

By James Tharin Bradford,

Book cover of Poppies, Politics, and Power: Afghanistan and the Global History of Drugs and Diplomacy

Drug trafficking has become entwined with Afghanistan in the minds of many, though the true situation is often misunderstood. Bradford’s meticulous research not only clearly explains the present situation, it places it in the broader historical context that is almost always missing. The legal trade in opium has deep roots in Afghanistan, and even in the present day, there are as many senior government officials benefiting from it as there are insurgent leaders. He also explores the growing problem with addiction that plagues Afghanistan, humanizing a complex problem.


Who am I?

Phil Halton has worked in conflict zones around the world as an officer in the Canadian Army and as a security consultant and has extensive experience in Afghanistan. He is the author of two novels and a history. He holds a Master's Degree in Defence Studies from Royal Military College of Canada, and a Graduate Certificate in Creative Writing from Humber College. 


I wrote...

Blood Washing Blood: Afghanistan's Hundred-Year War

By Phil Halton,

Book cover of Blood Washing Blood: Afghanistan's Hundred-Year War

What is my book about?

The war in Afghanistan has consumed vast amounts of blood and treasure, causing the Western powers to seek an exit without achieving victory. Seemingly never-ending, the conflict has become synonymous with a number of issues ― global jihad, rampant tribalism, and the narcotics trade ― but even though they are cited as the causes of the conflict, they are in fact symptoms.

Rather than beginning after 9/11 or with the Soviet “invasion” in 1979, the current conflict in Afghanistan began with the social reforms imposed by Amanullah Amir in 1919. Western powers have failed to recognize that legitimate grievances are driving the local population to turn to insurgency in Afghanistan. The issues they are willing to fight for have deep roots, forming a hundred-year-long social conflict over questions of secularism, modernity, and centralized power. The first step toward achieving a “solution” to the Afghanistan “problem” is to have a clear-eyed view of what is really driving it.

The Infiltrator

By Robert Mazur,

Book cover of The Infiltrator: The True Story of One Man Against the Biggest Drug Cartel in History

The movie based on this book featured the drama of Mazur’s undercover work as a U.S. Customs agent penetrating the money laundering behemoth known as BCCI, the bank that served crooks and governments around the world. What the film didn’t capture was the difficulty Mazur faced from federal officials who refused to act on the evidence he’d risked his life to obtain. After a state prosecuting attorney finally won indictments that brought down BCCI, Mazur testified that Department of Justice officials had ignored “hundreds of leads” that might have linked the institution to other cases of drug money, arms deals, and secret ownership of American banks.


Who am I?

As a longtime reporter in a small state with big politics, I’ve become fascinated by how sly intrusions of power can distort what should be routine police investigations. One of my sources observed, “Sometimes the cover-up is more interesting than the crime.” With that in mind, I began writing books to examine cases whose outcomes didn’t seem to make sense. It’s become a genre I call “crime after crime.”


I wrote...

The Boys on the Tracks: Death, Denial, and a Mother's Crusade to Bring Her Son's Killers to Justice

By Mara Leveritt,

Book cover of The Boys on the Tracks: Death, Denial, and a Mother's Crusade to Bring Her Son's Killers to Justice

What is my book about?

This close-up examination of one of the biggest unsolved crimes in U.S. history pulls back layers of questionable official behavior. It starts as the horrified crew of a train realizes that they are about to run over two teenagers lying motionless ahead on the tracks. The crewmen tell responding officers that the boys were partially covered by a tarp, but police reject their account. After the Arkansas medical examiner rules the deaths suicides, an independent autopsy uncovers evidence of murder, propelling the mother of one of the boys from her pain into a fight for answers. By midway through this tragedy, a half-dozen other young men in the same small county have died mysteriously or disappeared. But though a large-scale drug conspiracy implicates the prosecuting attorney, eventually sending him to prison, state and federal investigators never linked the corruption in his office to the murders.

Marijuana Boom

By Lina Britto,

Book cover of Marijuana Boom: The Rise and Fall of Colombia's First Drug Paradise

The association between Colombia and cocaine is strong in popular culture, but the cocaine economy rose upon the country’s experience with marijuana production and trafficking starting in the 1970s. Britto completed remarkable research, on the ground with people who were involved in marijuana trading. This is one of a few books that offer such a window into the illegal world of cannabis.

Who am I?

I study people-plant relationships from perspectives including ecology, history, cultural studies, and biogeography. Cannabis is certainly the most famous plant I’ve studied. A decade ago I was researching how Africans used an obscure tree in historical Central America, and came across accounts of cannabis use that surprised me. As I dug into cannabis history, I was continually amazed at how little the topic has been researched. It’s a great time to start learning about the plant’s past, because it’s a fresh, new field for professional academics. Cannabis has been portrayed so simplistically for decades, but in reality it’s a complex plant with a complicated history.


I wrote...

The African Roots of Marijuana

By Chris S. Duvall,

Book cover of The African Roots of Marijuana

What is my book about?

After arriving from South Asia approximately a thousand years ago, cannabis quickly spread throughout the African continent. European accounts of cannabis in Africa—often fictionalized and reliant upon racial stereotypes—shaped widespread myths about the plant and were used to depict the continent as a cultural backwater and Africans as predisposed to drug use.

These myths continue to influence contemporary thinking about cannabis. In The African Roots of Marijuana, Chris S. Duvall corrects common misconceptions while providing an authoritative history of cannabis as it flowed into, throughout, and out of Africa. Duvall shows how preexisting smoking cultures in Africa transformed the plant into a fast-acting and easily dosed drug and how it later became linked with global capitalism and the slave trade.

Kings of Cocaine

By Guy Gugliotta,

Book cover of Kings of Cocaine: Inside the Medellín Cartel, an Astonishing True Story of Murder, Money, and International Corruption

Decades before Netflix’s hit series Narcos, Gugliotta and Leen turned their prize-winning series of articles in The Miami Herald into a highly original book, Kings of Cocaine. What astounds me is how well the author’s uncovering the psychopathic violence, unimaginable profits, and political and social corruption of the Colombian cocaine trade. And this rot and bloodshed were not just occurring in the less developed Colombia but right inside Ronald Reagan’s America. 


Who am I?

Over my two decades as a scholar of American foreign policy and international politics, I had multiple opportunities to serve as a Latin America foreign policy aide. Given that Latin America plays a central role in the U.S.-hatched modern war on drugs, much of my policymaking was directly or indirectly tied to drug policy. I thus wrote Drugs and Thugs above all to make sure that I had a good sense of the history of this seemingly eternal conflict, one that is “fought” as much at home as abroad. 


I wrote...

Drugs and Thugs: The History and Future of America's War on Drugs

By Russell C. Crandall,

Book cover of Drugs and Thugs: The History and Future of America's War on Drugs

What is my book about?

How can the United States chart a path forward in the war on drugs? In Drugs and Thugs, Russell Crandall uncovers the full history of this war that has lasted more than a century. As a scholar and a high-level national security advisor to both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, he provides an essential view of the economic, political, and human impacts of U.S. drug policies. Backed by extensive research, lucid and unbiased analysis of policy, and his own personal experiences, Crandall takes readers from Afghanistan to Colombia, to Peru and Mexico, to Miami International Airport, and the border crossing between El Paso and Juarez to trace the complex social networks that make up the drug trade and drug consumption. 

Who am I?

I became passionate about the Mexico/US border question after meeting someone who is now a close friend, a Mexican academic who introduced me to some of the issues. She helped me write Saint Death as a way to explore the politics of ultra-capitalism, in the form of multinational business, and the action of drug cartels.


I wrote...

Saint Death

By Marcus Sedgwick,

Book cover of Saint Death

What is my book about?

Anapra is one of the poorest neighbourhoods in the Mexican city of Juarez – twenty metres outside town lies a fence, and beyond it, America – the dangerous goal of many a migrant. Faustino is one such trying to escape from the gang he’s been working for. He’s dipped into a pile of dollars he was supposed to be hiding and now he’s on the run. He and his friend, Arturo, have only 36 hours to replace the missing money, or they’re both as good as dead.

Watching over them is Saint Death. Saint Death (or Santa Muerte) – she of pure bone and charcoal-black eye, she of absolute loyalty and neutral morality, holy patron to rich and poor, to prostitute and narco-lord, criminal and police-chief. A folk saint, a rebel angel, a sinister guardian.

Chasing the Scream

By Johann Hari,

Book cover of Chasing the Scream: The Opposite of Addiction is Connection

Hari’s Chasing the Scream is not an exhaustively researched book but it still merits listing given how viscerally the author addresses the history of the global war on drugs in the light of his own personal addiction. Hari shines in his depiction of circa 1930s U.S. Drug Cop #1, Henry J. Anslinger, who, among other dubious endeavors, sought to throw the book at jazz singer Billie Holiday, who also happened to be a heroin addict.  


Who am I?

Over my two decades as a scholar of American foreign policy and international politics, I had multiple opportunities to serve as a Latin America foreign policy aide. Given that Latin America plays a central role in the U.S.-hatched modern war on drugs, much of my policymaking was directly or indirectly tied to drug policy. I thus wrote Drugs and Thugs above all to make sure that I had a good sense of the history of this seemingly eternal conflict, one that is “fought” as much at home as abroad. 


I wrote...

Drugs and Thugs: The History and Future of America's War on Drugs

By Russell C. Crandall,

Book cover of Drugs and Thugs: The History and Future of America's War on Drugs

What is my book about?

How can the United States chart a path forward in the war on drugs? In Drugs and Thugs, Russell Crandall uncovers the full history of this war that has lasted more than a century. As a scholar and a high-level national security advisor to both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, he provides an essential view of the economic, political, and human impacts of U.S. drug policies. Backed by extensive research, lucid and unbiased analysis of policy, and his own personal experiences, Crandall takes readers from Afghanistan to Colombia, to Peru and Mexico, to Miami International Airport, and the border crossing between El Paso and Juarez to trace the complex social networks that make up the drug trade and drug consumption. 

Argument Culture Moving From Debate to Dialogue

By Deborah Tannen,

Book cover of Argument Culture Moving From Debate to Dialogue

I teach and write on critical thinking, and a branch of this discipline is interested in the role of dialogue in the process of truth-seeking. Discovering this book was huge for me because it discusses in depth so many of the impediments to constructive dialogue that I (and most of us) have encountered. Its subject is the motivational and cultural bases of disagreements and how we value and manage them, and there are of course some sound recommendations for how we can do better by shifting from what has become an automatic adversarial approach to one of ‘meaningful dialogue’.


Who am I?

I am an academic at the University of Glasgow with a background in philosophy and psychology. My approach to critical thinking is broad and informed by several other teaching and research interests: emotional intelligence, the psychology of influence, interpersonal communication, and virtue ethics. Motivating much of what I do is the question: How are we to live well? With respect to critical thinking I don’t just deal with the nature and structure of arguments, but also with the role they play in constructive dialogues, and how poor reasoning is linked to psychological biases and the absence of certain virtues. The books I have chosen here are representative of these concerns.


I wrote...

Critical Thinking: The Basics

By Stuart Hanscomb,

Book cover of Critical Thinking: The Basics

What is my book about?

Critical Thinking: The Basics is an accessible and engaging introduction to the field of critical thinking, drawing on philosophy, communication, and psychology. Emphasising its relevance to decision making (in personal, professional, and civic life), academic literacy, and personal development, this book supports the reader in understanding and developing the knowledge and skills needed to identify poor reasoning, construct strong arguments, and engage critically in dialogues.

With discussion questions/exercises and suggestions for further reading at the end of each chapter, this book is an essential read for students approaching the field of critical thinking for the first time, and for the general reader wanting to improve their thinking skills and decision-making abilities.

Methland

By Nick Reding,

Book cover of Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town

Reding’s book on the methamphetamine epidemic in small-town Ohio is distressing but essential. He is exceptional in showing rather than telling how meth is in so many ways the Great American Drug. It makes you work even more maniacally, for one. And the hollowing out of Middle America makes the drug’s proactive nature even more attractive in these forgotten towns and cities. It is painful that the meth scourge might have eased but, as is so often the case, other destructive substances have quickly replaced it. 


Who am I?

Over my two decades as a scholar of American foreign policy and international politics, I had multiple opportunities to serve as a Latin America foreign policy aide. Given that Latin America plays a central role in the U.S.-hatched modern war on drugs, much of my policymaking was directly or indirectly tied to drug policy. I thus wrote Drugs and Thugs above all to make sure that I had a good sense of the history of this seemingly eternal conflict, one that is “fought” as much at home as abroad. 


I wrote...

Drugs and Thugs: The History and Future of America's War on Drugs

By Russell C. Crandall,

Book cover of Drugs and Thugs: The History and Future of America's War on Drugs

What is my book about?

How can the United States chart a path forward in the war on drugs? In Drugs and Thugs, Russell Crandall uncovers the full history of this war that has lasted more than a century. As a scholar and a high-level national security advisor to both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, he provides an essential view of the economic, political, and human impacts of U.S. drug policies. Backed by extensive research, lucid and unbiased analysis of policy, and his own personal experiences, Crandall takes readers from Afghanistan to Colombia, to Peru and Mexico, to Miami International Airport, and the border crossing between El Paso and Juarez to trace the complex social networks that make up the drug trade and drug consumption. 

Patriot Games

By Tom Clancy,

Book cover of Patriot Games

In the fight against the War on Terror, many Americans have long forgotten the war that never stopped raging against an enemy that is better funded than many of our governmental organizations, is not bound by any laws or treaties, has a virtually unlimited supply of money, weapons, and soldiers, and is located just south of our borders. 

Patriot Games is an oldie but goody, a fictional novel that sheds light on the realistic way in which our War on Drugs encompasses Special Operations troops working hand in hand with intelligence agencies and law enforcement. I have friends who have fought directly in these drug wars, and who have told me the enemy had all of their names and personal information before they even landed south of the border for their deployments. The War on Drugs is savage and is still raging very close to home, yet we rarely hear…


Who am I?

I’m a former Green Beret and combat veteran of OIF (Iraq), OEF (Afghanistan), and OEF-TS (North Africa). These experiences have given me insights into things that most people never get to see or even hear about, as well as first-hand knowledge of the men who make up the Special Operations community and what drives them. After leaving Special Forces I have written three published Special Operations-focused books, both fiction and non-fiction, which has led to a life of studying everything there is to know about Special Operations, the intelligence behind wars, and the history of both.


I wrote...

The Pact

By Robert Patrick Lewis,

Book cover of The Pact

What is my book about?

Hailed as "Red Dawn with a modern Special Operations twist," "so realistic and plausible that it's terrifying," an "on the edge of your seat thriller that will have you looking in your rearview mirror for enemy troops," The Pact takes readers on a work of military fiction influenced by real world events seen lining up in the eyes of a former Green Beret combat veteran. If all of America’s enemies were to join forces to attack our homeland, what would a team of former Special Operations soldiers do in response? Read The Pact Trilogy to find out.

Forces of Habit

By David T. Courtwright,

Book cover of Forces of Habit: Drugs and the Making of the Modern World

Forces of Habit is unbelievably wise and well-written, a tour of force on the drugs-especially illicit ones—can be what they are today. Courtwright looks at the supposedly hard drugs—marijuana, cocaine, and heroin—but also the soft ones—alcohol, nicotine, and even caffeine. I love that he forces all of us to consider how arbitrary the line is between illicit and legal, often depending on current social norms. 


Who am I?

Over my two decades as a scholar of American foreign policy and international politics, I had multiple opportunities to serve as a Latin America foreign policy aide. Given that Latin America plays a central role in the U.S.-hatched modern war on drugs, much of my policymaking was directly or indirectly tied to drug policy. I thus wrote Drugs and Thugs above all to make sure that I had a good sense of the history of this seemingly eternal conflict, one that is “fought” as much at home as abroad. 


I wrote...

Drugs and Thugs: The History and Future of America's War on Drugs

By Russell C. Crandall,

Book cover of Drugs and Thugs: The History and Future of America's War on Drugs

What is my book about?

How can the United States chart a path forward in the war on drugs? In Drugs and Thugs, Russell Crandall uncovers the full history of this war that has lasted more than a century. As a scholar and a high-level national security advisor to both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, he provides an essential view of the economic, political, and human impacts of U.S. drug policies. Backed by extensive research, lucid and unbiased analysis of policy, and his own personal experiences, Crandall takes readers from Afghanistan to Colombia, to Peru and Mexico, to Miami International Airport, and the border crossing between El Paso and Juarez to trace the complex social networks that make up the drug trade and drug consumption. 

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