Book reviews

This new section of the website is dedicated to brief reviews of books, films or other media that we feel would be of interest. The reviews will only be indicative, will only be occasional and quite random, featuring ‘golden oldies’ as well as new items.

Recently there have been a spate of unique popular science books which not only look at addiction in a new way, but have also been written by those with lived experience of drugs and the drug culture. For most of the American medical, research and therapeutic mainstream, addiction is a disease like any other which in turn has dictated the development of treatment pathways. Some doctors like Stanton Peele have been challenging this orthodoxy for years. These books represent new challenges to traditional thinking.


High price; drugs, neuroscience and discovering myself by Carl Hart

HighPriceThis is the story of how the author escaped his upbringing in one of Miami’s toughest neighbourhoods to become the first tenured African American professor in the sciences working as a neuroscientist at Columbia University. In the course of his journey, Carl Hart became convinced about how and why the drug laws have been especially damaging for the black community and in doing so has become an ardent campaigner for reform.

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The biology of desire: why addiction is not a disease by Marc Lewis

BiologyofdesireThe author is another neuroscientist with a history of drug use which he detailed in his previous book Memoirs of an addicted brain. The disease model of addiction remains controversial; there are those that maintain that addiction is the result of a ‘diseased’ brain, while others maintain that addiction is entirely driven by external circumstances. Lewis makes the central point that the brain must be involved and yes, it adapts to new experiences and circumstances,  because if it didn’t, babies would never learn how to talk and nobody would ever learn how to play a musical instrument. Addiction is part of that same dynamic learning process.

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Unbroken brain: a revolutionary new way of understanding addiction by Maia Szalavitz


The author is an experienced science writer with – in this case –  a great facility for making the complexities of brain chemistry accessible (and is acknowledged by Carl Hart for helping him craft his story). She too also writes from the perspective of lived experience – and like Lewis takes the view that addiction is the product of disordered learning and not disease.

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The drug conversation: how to talk to your child about drugs by Owen Bowden-Jones

howtotalkDr Bowden-Jones is best known for his work at the London Club Drug Clinic, so the subject of his first foray into books comes as something of a surprise. But it is full of practical advice, case studies and clear information about drugs and their action. I think the publishers would do well to market this book beyond book shops. In the first place, my gut feeling is that many parents would feel a bit reticent about walking into a shop and buying a book like this or borrowing it from a library. So online purchase is more likely and for that, they would have to know about it. Secondly, I think those working professionally with young people would benefit from reading this book, not least so they can bone up on the drug information and if they are also working with parents or other carers, they might then want to recommend the book as a useful adjunct to face to face work.

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