Read: Opium Fiend

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Hey, nothing like a little drug addiction to spice up your Monday. In 1996 I went to Cambodia to document the development of a law school started by an American public defender who had ventured to Cambodia years earlier only to fall in love with the land and the people. Cambodia was still raw in many ways and the Khmer Rouge were still in control of several areas making travel a bit dicey at times. (Like running into four guys with RPG’s pointed at our Jeep.) At one point during the trip, I was on a small runway near Angkor Wat waiting for a flight to Vientiane, Laos. I would by lying if I did not admit that part of the conversation that led to Laos was based on opium and opium pipes.

Based on a variety of last minute items, including the small plane filling with smoke before takeoff, I ended up not venturing to Laos. But the memory of the near miss has never left, nor has the history of opium, unique in the annals of drug-landia. Thankfully, Steven Martin went several steps further in his quest to learn and live the opium life. In fact, he took enough steps to become a full blown addict.

I truly enjoyed Opium Fiend: A 21st Century Slave to a 19th Century Addiction, even the parts about his attempted detox events, which are filled with smelly detail. But the book is more than “I was there.” The book is a detailed history of opium in relation to human beings and a detailed history of the ephemera associated with the smoking of the drug. The book also peppers the story with the life and culture of Southeast Asia. Collectors, scammers, friends and “Old Asia” hands being displaced by tourism and five-star hotels. Get it, read it.

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