Friday, April 11, 2008

Nicolas Rasmussen's "On Speed"

Nicolas Rasmussen is Senior Lecturer in the School of History and Philosophy at the University of New South Wales.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, On Speed: The Many Lives of Amphetamine, and reported the following:
Page 99 of On Speed is fairly representative of the book in that it looks at the evolving place of the drug (amphetamine) in society from the perspective of the pharmaceutical company marketing it, the medical profession, and the user – in this case the recreational user. Such a detailed multi-perspective treatment is what makes the book unique, I believe, among all historical books on drugs. In the particular passages on page 99 the perspective of the legitimate medical amphetamine user is absent, although there is plenty of that elsewhere. Drug user experiences of the past are very hard for the historian to access, especially those of often-secretive recreational users, unless they are content with police records. However, in the case of the Benzedrine Inhaler, I was fortunate in having the Beat writers (who abused the product so much in the 1940s, having picked up the habit on the New York jazz scene) working as my medical anthropologists.

The book is ultimately about the parallel roles that medical and non-medical drug use play in modern society, addressing that general issue through the story of amphetamine and the fascination it has held for Americans in particular over the past 69 years. When a drug that has proven this dangerous again and again remains so popular, not only on the street but as a prescription medicine (e.g. Adderall), it says something deep about the culture that finds its effects so very indispensable. I find the conclusion inescapable that millions of Americans feel they -- and or/their kids -- are able to live up to the behavioral expectations of their culture only when drugged with speed. As present rates of amphetamine use in the US approach those at the peak of the first epidemic, just prior to the classification of these drugs as controlled substances in 1970, perhaps it is time for Americans to reconsider those expectations.
Read an excerpt from On Speed, and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

Visit Nicolas Rasmussen's faculty webpage for more information about his research and other publications.

--Marshal Zeringue