The answer is yes in an argument tinged with plenty of nuance.

SHOULD ALL DRUGS BE LEGALIZED?

A graphic-rich book whose title thesis is asked and answered in a cogent narrative.

Part of the publisher’s Big Idea series, this volume is billed as “a primer for the 21st century.” The idea is big but not, of course, new: Most drugs were largely legal in most parts of the world until relatively recently. As British freelance journalist Busby writes, for instance, opium was widely used in Britain until 1868, popular among the poor “because it was cheaper than gin or wine.” Prohibition and suppression paralleled the rise of the bureaucratic, command-economy state. For example, marijuana was legal in Madagascar until the authorities observed that a ganja-fueled populace wasn’t inclined to work efficiently in the fields. As Busby shows, there’s a racist element to the historic interdiction effort. “Many of the initial prohibitions were at least partly fueled by bigotry,” he writes, “underpinned by fears of foreigners and minority groups, and perceived threats to labor markets.” The war on drugs in the U.S., instituted by the Nixon administration, has been no different: Most consumers are White, but most police actions target non-White people. That war, Busby relates, has chalked up roughly $1 trillion in costs, with an annual expenditure today of about $50 billion. Meanwhile, cartels and their enablers—one of them the HSBC Bank, which “allowed at least $881 billion of Sinaloa cartel drug trafficking money to be laundered through its accounts”—cashed in big. Busby argues that prohibition is a lost cause, an opportunity for politicians to bloviate and gangsters to flourish, and that “it is time for a new, compassionate and pragmatic approach.” Backed by a careful graphic presentation in charts and photographs, that argument calls for legalization, regulation, treatment of the addicted, and other more humane and less costly measures that would have the effect of dismantling the illegal economy.

The answer is yes in an argument tinged with plenty of nuance.

Pub Date: July 12, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-500-29568-7

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Thames & Hudson

Review Posted Online: May 17, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2022

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A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

HAPPY-GO-LUCKY

Sedaris remains stubbornly irreverent even in the face of pandemic lockdowns and social upheaval.

In his previous collection of original essays, Calypso (2018), the author was unusually downbeat, fixated on aging and the deaths of his mother and sister. There’s bad news in this book, too—most notably, the death of his problematic and seemingly indestructible father at 96—but Sedaris generally carries himself more lightly. On a trip to a gun range, he’s puzzled by boxer shorts with a holster feature, which he wishes were called “gunderpants.” He plays along with nursing-home staffers who, hearing a funnyman named David is on the premises, think he’s Dave Chappelle. He’s bemused by his sister Amy’s landing a new apartment to escape her territorial pet rabbit. On tour, he collects sheaves of off-color jokes and tales of sexual self-gratification gone wrong. His relationship with his partner, Hugh, remains contentious, but it’s mellowing. (“After thirty years, sleeping is the new having sex.”) Even more serious stuff rolls off him. Of Covid-19, he writes that “more than eight hundred thousand people have died to date, and I didn’t get to choose a one of them.” The author’s support of Black Lives Matter is tempered by his interest in the earnest conscientiousness of organizers ensuring everyone is fed and hydrated. (He refers to one such person as a “snacktivist.”) Such impolitic material, though, puts serious essays in sharper, more powerful relief. He recalls fending off the flirtations of a 12-year-old boy in France, frustrated by the language barrier and other factors that kept him from supporting a young gay man. His father’s death unlocks a crushing piece about dad’s inappropriate, sexualizing treatment of his children. For years—chronicled in many books—Sedaris labored to elude his father’s criticism. Even in death, though, it proves hard to escape or laugh off.

A sweet-and-sour set of pieces on loss, absurdity, and places they intersect.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-39245-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

HUMANS

The creator of the hit internet series Humans of New York takes it global, chasing down a panoply of interesting stories.

In 1955, Edward Steichen staged a show called “The Family of Man,” a gathering of photographs that emphasized the commonality of humankind. Stanton’s project seemingly has much the same ambition. “You’ve created this magic little corner of the Web where people feel safe sharing their stories—without being ridiculed, or bullied, or judged,” he writes. “These stories are only honestly shared because they have a long history of being warmly received.” The ask is the hard part: approaching a total stranger and asking him or her to tell their stories. And what stories they are. A young Frenchwoman, tearful, recounts being able to see things from the spirit world that no one else can see. “And it’s been a very lonely existence since then,” she says. A sensible teenager in St. Petersburg, Russia, relates that her friends are trying to be grown-up, smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, whereas she wants to remain a child close to her parents: “I’d like these times to last as long as possible.” A few stories are obnoxious, as with a Dutch incel who has converted himself into a pickup artist and outright cad: “Of course it’s manipulation, but why should I care? I’ve been manipulated so many times in my life.” A great many stories, some going for several pages but most taking up just a paragraph or two, are regretful, speaking to dashed dreams and roads not taken. A surprising number recount mental illness, depression, and addiction; “I’d give anything to have a tribe,” says a beleaguered mother in Barcelona. Some are hopeful, though, such as that of an Iranian woman: “I’ve fallen in love with literature. I try to read for one or two hours every day. I only have one life to live. But in books I can live one thousand lives.”

A lovely, sometimes challenging testament to the universality of human nature.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11429-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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