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Milk of Paradise: A History of Opium

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Poppy tears, opium, heroin, fentanyl: humankind has been in thrall to the “Milk of Paradise” for millennia. The latex of papaver somniferum is a bringer of sleep, of pleasurable lethargy, of relief from pain—and hugely addictive. A commodity without rival, it is renewable, easy to extract, transport, and refine, and subject to an insatiable global demand. No other substance Poppy tears, opium, heroin, fentanyl: humankind has been in thrall to the “Milk of Paradise” for millennia. The latex of papaver somniferum is a bringer of sleep, of pleasurable lethargy, of relief from pain—and hugely addictive. A commodity without rival, it is renewable, easy to extract, transport, and refine, and subject to an insatiable global demand. No other substance in the world is as simple to produce or as profitable. It is the basis of a gargantuan industry built upon a shady underworld, but ultimately it is an agricultural product that lives many lives before it reaches the branded blister packet, the intravenous drip, or the scorched and filthy spoon. Many of us will end our lives dependent on it. In Milk of Paradise, acclaimed cultural historian Lucy Inglis takes readers on an epic journey from ancient Mesopotamia to modern America and Afghanistan, from Sanskrit to pop, from poppy tears to smack, from morphine to today’s synthetic opiates. It is a tale of addiction, trade, crime, sex, war, literature, medicine, and, above all, money. And, as this ambitious, wide-ranging, and compelling account vividly shows, the history of opium is our history and it speaks to us of who we are.


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Poppy tears, opium, heroin, fentanyl: humankind has been in thrall to the “Milk of Paradise” for millennia. The latex of papaver somniferum is a bringer of sleep, of pleasurable lethargy, of relief from pain—and hugely addictive. A commodity without rival, it is renewable, easy to extract, transport, and refine, and subject to an insatiable global demand. No other substance Poppy tears, opium, heroin, fentanyl: humankind has been in thrall to the “Milk of Paradise” for millennia. The latex of papaver somniferum is a bringer of sleep, of pleasurable lethargy, of relief from pain—and hugely addictive. A commodity without rival, it is renewable, easy to extract, transport, and refine, and subject to an insatiable global demand. No other substance in the world is as simple to produce or as profitable. It is the basis of a gargantuan industry built upon a shady underworld, but ultimately it is an agricultural product that lives many lives before it reaches the branded blister packet, the intravenous drip, or the scorched and filthy spoon. Many of us will end our lives dependent on it. In Milk of Paradise, acclaimed cultural historian Lucy Inglis takes readers on an epic journey from ancient Mesopotamia to modern America and Afghanistan, from Sanskrit to pop, from poppy tears to smack, from morphine to today’s synthetic opiates. It is a tale of addiction, trade, crime, sex, war, literature, medicine, and, above all, money. And, as this ambitious, wide-ranging, and compelling account vividly shows, the history of opium is our history and it speaks to us of who we are.

30 review for Milk of Paradise: A History of Opium

  1. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    From BBC radio 4 - Book of the Week: Derived from the juice of the poppy, it relieves our pain and cures our insomnia. It may even inspire great art. It also causes addiction, misery and death. Historian Lucy Inglis' new book explores man's long and complex relationship with opium. "In mankind's search for temporary oblivion," writes Inglis, "opiates possess a special allure. Since Neolithic times, opium has made life seem, if not perfect, then tolerable for millions. However unlikely it seems at From BBC radio 4 - Book of the Week: Derived from the juice of the poppy, it relieves our pain and cures our insomnia. It may even inspire great art. It also causes addiction, misery and death. Historian Lucy Inglis' new book explores man's long and complex relationship with opium. "In mankind's search for temporary oblivion," writes Inglis, "opiates possess a special allure. Since Neolithic times, opium has made life seem, if not perfect, then tolerable for millions. However unlikely it seems at this moment, many of us will end our lives dependent on it." A turning point in the history of opium was the invention in 17th Century England of a new form of the drug. Two key figures in this development were Christopher Wren - not just an architect, but an anatomist as well - and the physician Thomas Sydenham, who mixed opium with saffron, cloves, cinnamon and sherry to create laudanum. It was easy to swallow, easy on the stomach, and easy to dispense over the counter. "A new age in drug-taking had begun..." Milk of Paradise is written by Lucy Inglis and abridged by Anna Magnusson. The reader is Anita Vettesse. The producer is David Jackson Young. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0bf...

  2. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

    detailed book charting mans history with opium from the ancients to modern day versions from the poppy plant and man made versions. learnt a lot and found it very interesting. well worth reading

  3. 5 out of 5

    kagami

    1 star for the audio version I listened to on the BBC radio 4 Book of the Week programme. I have not read the book. The narration is fine, it's the contents I have a problem with. I don't really understand the point of this radio-book. It's a random amalgamation of a partial historical overview of opium and its use since ancient Greek times, plus some (possibly) historical snippets and stories relating to opium, heroin and occasionally other non-synthetic drugs that took place mainly in the US a 1 star for the audio version I listened to on the BBC radio 4 Book of the Week programme. I have not read the book. The narration is fine, it's the contents I have a problem with. I don't really understand the point of this radio-book. It's a random amalgamation of a partial historical overview of opium and its use since ancient Greek times, plus some (possibly) historical snippets and stories relating to opium, heroin and occasionally other non-synthetic drugs that took place mainly in the US and its army in Vietnam. Up to episode 4 of 5 there's only talk of opium, then suddenly heroin comes to the stage and seems to be used as a form of opium, but the relationship between the two is never explained. I'm not a specialist in this field (quite frankly, I'd be surprised if the book is aimed at any sort of specialist), so I was hoping I would learn at least one useful thing from this one and a half hour narration, e.g. what's the connection between opium and heroin, or how heroin is derived from opium - but no joy. Maybe I wasn't listening carefully enough? There was mention of drug cooks brought in from (or to?) Hong Kong to turn the lower-grade Thai opium into something like the higher-grade Afghanistan opium. Maybe that's where opium becomes heroin? Anyway. I've lost interest. The only remotely curious thing I learned was that, apparently, an opium-containing syrup called Godfrey's Cordial was given to infants in Britain, the USA and elsewhere in the not-too-distant past, and that many of the famous British writers and poets of the 19th century were opium addicts as they were regularly self-medicating with laudanum which contains a large percentage of opium. In summery, this is a radio-book mostly about opium, but don't expect any talk of the Opium Wars, because there isn't, except as a passing note on the background of Chinese immigrants to San Francisco. So there. I'd say don't bother listening to this, find something more useful to do with your time. Like unloading the dishwasher to the marginally more educational sound of Radio 1.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Bettie☯

    BOTW https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0bf... Description: Derived from the juice of the poppy, it relieves our pain and cures our insomnia. It may even inspire great art. It also causes addiction, misery and death. Historian Lucy Inglis' new book explores man's long and complex relationship with opium. "In mankind's search for temporary oblivion," writes Inglis, "opiates possess a special allure. Since Neolithic times, opium has made life seem, if not perfect, then tolerable for millions. However BOTW https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0bf... Description: Derived from the juice of the poppy, it relieves our pain and cures our insomnia. It may even inspire great art. It also causes addiction, misery and death. Historian Lucy Inglis' new book explores man's long and complex relationship with opium. "In mankind's search for temporary oblivion," writes Inglis, "opiates possess a special allure. Since Neolithic times, opium has made life seem, if not perfect, then tolerable for millions. However unlikely it seems at this moment, many of us will end our lives dependent on it." A turning point in the history of opium was the invention in 17th Century England of a new form of the drug. Two key figures in this development were Christopher Wren - not just an architect, but an anatomist as well - and the physician Thomas Sydenham, who mixed opium with saffron, cloves, cinnamon and sherry to create laudanum. It was easy to swallow, easy on the stomach, and easy to dispense over the counter. Beautifully read by Anita Vettesse and an interesting subject.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Tregear

    This is a beautiful book both to look at and to read. The history of opium is the history of the world. Well written and researched so even those of us who are not historians or scientists can understand. You learn so much not just about opium, but about trade, wars, corruption and humanity. There are parts of the book where you think you’d like more detail but you can understand why it will have been edited down to keep the book informative and not lose the reader in detail but it’s full of fas This is a beautiful book both to look at and to read. The history of opium is the history of the world. Well written and researched so even those of us who are not historians or scientists can understand. You learn so much not just about opium, but about trade, wars, corruption and humanity. There are parts of the book where you think you’d like more detail but you can understand why it will have been edited down to keep the book informative and not lose the reader in detail but it’s full of fascinating facts. Towards the end of the book where we get to more recent events is where Lucy Inglis writing really excels, and the human element comes to the fore. The search for oblivion to take away the stresses of life has not changed since Neolithic times to this very day, our relationship with the poppy is complex, it’s both good and evil, and shows no sign of abating. Recommended 4.5/10

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sam Wilkinson

    Interesting look at the history of opium, with some interesting side notes as well.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jojo

    Interesting narrative on opium and its impacts. I particularity liked the later sections on the US activities around the Vietnam War which I was not aware of until reading here.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Darcy Moore

  9. 4 out of 5

    Deborah Wilson

  10. 5 out of 5

    Glen

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jess

  12. 5 out of 5

    Lawrence

  13. 4 out of 5

    Emma

  14. 4 out of 5

    Claire Hutchinson

  15. 5 out of 5

    Sam Griffin

  16. 4 out of 5

    Dante Penington

  17. 4 out of 5

    Anna

  18. 5 out of 5

    mrs fiona downey

  19. 5 out of 5

    Amy Rogers

  20. 5 out of 5

    Georgia Threadgold

  21. 5 out of 5

    Vincent Seynaeve

  22. 4 out of 5

    Ami

  23. 4 out of 5

    Libby Thompson

  24. 5 out of 5

    Mat Connolley

  25. 5 out of 5

    Fernando

  26. 4 out of 5

    Dennis E

  27. 5 out of 5

    Karen

  28. 5 out of 5

    Antti Salovaara

  29. 5 out of 5

    Suzette Harper

  30. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

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