ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Book Review: Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs

Updated on February 9, 2018

In the Beginning

At the end of his life, Harry Anslinger, was sucking down the very thing he had fought so hard against – drugs! Harry’s drugs were legal, but nonetheless, he was using them to cope with pain. Not so far from the other addicts discussed in Johann Hari’s January 2015 release of “Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs" (Bloomsbury).

Hari’s not some left-over from the 1960’s fighting for a lop-sided cause so he can justify the six pot plants he has thriving under a grow lamp on his closet floor. Instead, an award winning journalist, he spent three years traveling the globe ferreting out the people and the research to make this an educational yet readable volume.

The Characters

Hari starts with where the drug war starts over 100 years ago with a man named Harry Anslinger - whose journals by the way, Hari found at Penn State University. The journals were instrumental in painting a picture of how the war on drugs progressed. In the 1930's, Anslinger was named the head of the Bureau of Narcotics. In this powerful position, Anslinger incorrectly makes some assumptions not to short of paranoid delusions. His beliefs that most white people were not doing drugs was nearly racist. He also believed that drugs, even cannabis, made people go on insane murderous rampages. Touting these claims and with all his hype fueled by the media, Anslinger gained much power in criminalizing drugs.

From this foundation, Hari takes you on chapter long visits with both addicts (Billie Holiday), dealers and racketeers, (Arnold Rothstein) gang members (Chino), doctors (Gabor Mate), researchers. (Bruce Alexander) and Joao Guilao, the National Drug Coordinator of Portugal. His research is extensive and his questioning fair.


Two states in North America have legalized marijuana. Hari digs in deep and finds the individuals involved in the front lines of this legislation. Tonya Winchester, Washington state, believed that marijuana laws wreck the lives of people for years to come. Mason Tvert, Colorado, believed marijuana is safer than alcohol. Whether you believe either argument, the parties involved saw marijuana legalized because of their efforts.

Hari does not claim to have the answers – in fact, he jockeys back and forth often asking questions, looking at stats and interviewing those who can say what does and does not work. And yes, he brings up the “P” word when he looks at effects of prohibition in the United States and then he also bring up the “R” word and wonders what regulation would look like. He chats with politicians in Portugal who have already crossed the great "P" and "R" divide and ponders their cutting-edge decision. It's not perfect, some things work, some things seem the same, but it's a start.

Praise for “Chasing the Scream”

“A terrific book.” – Bill Maher

“An absolutely stunning book. It will blow people away.” – Elton John

“This book is as intoxicatingly thrilling as crack, without destroying your teeth. It will change the drug debate forever.” – Russell Brand

“Breath-taking… A powerful contribution to an urgent debate” – John Harris, The Guardian

“Gripping” – The Financial Times

“A riveting book” – The San Francisco Chronicle

“Superb” – Piers Morgan


Way More to Think About

There are beautiful cases buried within the pages of this riveting book for what might be the cause or causes of addiction. This interests me because I've heard a lot about the effects of childhood trauma lately and some research is pointing to childhood trauma as a cause for addiction. It is also discovered that isolation promotes addiction. These are gorgeous and kind theories with lots to back them up that allow us to see the addict as not some bum on the street, but an injured soul looking for relief.

I find myself saddened and softened and scared all at once. Meth, heroine, crack, cocaine – these are the drugs that frighten most non-users. Can you separate different drugs in mass regulation and what does that look like? Hari looks at places that did not legalize drug use by drug type and how they are faring.

As he ends, I am baffled, the book is still thick with chapters and I realize these are Hari’s references. The journalist in me rejoices for the extensive research as Hari finishes continuing to hash out the recent legalization cases in the US; a difference in argument, he “...can’t resolve”.

In the End

In the end, we have Harry Anslinger sucking down pain pills in a strange quid pro quo. I cannot despise the man for it as I sip a glass of wine and decide whether to take a hydroxyzine to help me sleep. The drug war is a war and with all war, there is winning and losing. Harry Anslinger did what he thought was best for America, but all these years later Hari has us questioning whether there is better way. That's what "Chasing the Scream" tries to sort out. It's worth the read as we see where the next decades take us and .. . the battle wages on.

Should drugs be legalized?

See results

This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)