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The Road of Excess

The Road of Excess

A History of Writers on Drugs

Marcus Boon

ISBN 9780674017566

Publication date: 03/15/2005

From the antiquity of Homer to yesterday's Naked Lunch, writers have found inspiration, and readers have lost themselves, in a world of the imagination tinged and oftentimes transformed by drugs. The age-old association of literature and drugs receives its first comprehensive treatment in this far-reaching work. Drawing on history, science, biography, literary analysis, and ethnography, Marcus Boon shows that the concept of drugs is fundamentally interdisciplinary, and reveals how different sets of connections between disciplines configure each drug's unique history.

In chapters on opiates, anesthetics, cannabis, stimulants, and psychedelics, Boon traces the history of the relationship between writers and specific drugs, and between these drugs and literary and philosophical traditions. With reference to the usual suspects from De Quincey to Freud to Irvine Welsh and with revelations about others such as Milton, Voltaire, Thoreau, and Sartre, The Road of Excess provides a novel and persuasive characterization of the "effects" of each class of drug--linking narcotic addiction to Gnostic spirituality, stimulant use to writing machines, anesthesia to transcendental philosophy, and psychedelics to the problem of the imaginary itself. Creating a vast network of texts, personalities, and chemicals, the book reveals the ways in which minute shifts among these elements have resulted in "drugs" and "literature" as we conceive of them today.


  • The book's foundational strength is its scholarship. He uses citations not only for traditional scholarly support, but to delight, astonish, and engage the reader. It's too bad that bibliographies are out of fashion these days, since Boon's is a gem. He's done his homework several times over. He is a man after my own heart with his methodological bricolage, applying political, psychological, medical, anthropological and theological tactics according to the needs of the situation. The book is written in a buoyant tone, full of energy and excitement whether disclosing a juicy fact or working through a knotty argument. Although it is clearly an academic book, in the sense that it has footnotes and high scholarly standards, it could be enjoyed by any reader with an interest in literature - or drugs. When it finds unknown ground it is exciting, and when it recrosses more familiar zones it always finds a way to renew interest in them.

    —David Lenson, author of On Drugs and Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Massachusetts


  • Marcus Boon is Professor of English at York University, Toronto.

Book Details

  • 360 pages
  • 0-15/16 x 5-1/1 x 8-15/16 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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