Opium Reality's Dark Dream Thomas Dormandy

Publication date:
15 Mar 2012
Yale University Press
376 pages: 235 x 156mm
16 pp. b-w illus.
Sales territories:

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Opium and its derivatives morphine and heroin have destroyed, corrupted, and killed individuals, families, communities, and even whole nations. And yet, for most of its long history, opium has also been humanity's most effective means of alleviating physical and mental pain. This extraordinary book encompasses the entire history of the world's most fascinating drug, from the first evidence of poppy cultivation by stone-age man to the present-day opium trade in Afghanistan. Dr. Thomas Dormandy tells the story with verve and insight, uncovering the strange power of opiates to motivate major conflicts yet also inspire great art and medical breakthroughs, to trigger the rise of global criminal networks yet also revolutionize attitudes toward wellbeing.

Opium: Reality's Dark Dream traverses the globe and the centuries, exploring opium's role in colonialism, the Chinese Opium Wars, laudanum-inspired sublime Romantic poetry, American "Yellow Peril" fears, the rise of the Mafia and the black market, 1960s counterculture, and more. Dr. Dormandy also recounts exotic or sad stories of individual addiction. Throughout the book, the author emphasizes opium's complex, valuable relationship with developments in medicine, health, and disease, highlighting the perplexing dual nature of the drug as both the cause and relief of great suffering in widely diverse civilizations.

More about this title

• Read an article by Opium author Thomas Dormandy on Yale's blog
• Like Opium on Facebook

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Thomas Dormandy is a retired consultant pathologist, Whittington Hospital, University of London, and Brunel University, London. He is the author of several books, including the prize-winning The White Death: A History of Tuberculosis. He lives in London.

"Opium: Reality’s Dark Dream by Thomas Dormandy, is that rare thing: both an extraordinary work of scholarship and a rip-roaring read."—Rebecca Rose, Prospect

"Thomas Dormandy is an elegant, dryly amusing writer who plainly has an unquenchable appetite for research."—John Preston, Daily Mail

"A lively and fascinating chronicle of opium…The book is a remarkable synthesis of different fields of knowledge."—Peter Swabb, Daily Telegraph

"A scholarly yet wonderfully readable book."—Teresa Levonian Cole, Country Life

"Dormandy writes with authority on the medical aspects of addiction, the Opium Wars and the arguments for and against the legalisation of drugs." Frances Wilson, Times Literary Supplement

"Rich in stories and an entertaining read, Dr Dormandy has traced the many lives of opium, from the Stone Age to the War of Terror." Yangwen Zheng, BBC History Magazine

"Dormandy recognises the duality of opium – it’s uniquely ‘two faced character’… Such personal knowledge – of Sauders’ work and the Fallada life history – brings Dormandy’s book to life… Dormandy… omits recent revisionist research… It covers a wide terrain and is well written as an engaging narrative of opium’s dual history." Virginia Berridge, Lancet

"Opium: Reality’s Dark Dream takes a fascinating… er… trip through the drug’s social, medical and cultural history." Wood and Vale

"Dormandy is a knowledgeable author in the field of medical history, and Opium is elegantly written and certainly worth reading." Jesper Vaczy Kragh, Times Higher Education