By Carl Hart Harper, 2013 Review by Christian Perring on Apr 8th 2014
Brain researcher Carl Hart tells the story of his life and uses it to illustrate how drug addiction is not as represented in most drug education literature or popular science. He shows how social conditions are major determinants of drug use and how ideas of drug craving and addiction as a brain disorder are misleading and politically loaded. He shows how drug policy is not consistent with scientific knowledge. The central ideas in his book could be set out quite briefly, and readers may want to get to the central ideas quickly. The ideas are important and need to be emphasized. He spells out how modern research into drug addiction shows that addicts are able to control their behavior and that drugs like crack or crystal meth do not take away someone's self-control completely, and are used by many people who never get addicted. Not only do crack cocaine and powder cocaine have the same chemical composition, but crystal meth and the prescription drug Adderall is an amphetamine in the same family as crystal meth, but with a different mode of delivery. Hart argues that current drug policy is profoundly mistaken and needs to reexamined to be made more reasonable.
However, putting the science in the context of Hart's own family history takes up the bulk of the book. Hart examines how growing up in his Florida neighborhood led him to a successful career in neuroscience, while many of his peers and relatives fell into crime and ended up in the criminal justice system. He makes a strong case that the central problem is a lack of opportunity and the vastly increasing risk for young black men to be stopped, questioned, and detained by the police. Here his case is more anecdotal and less backed up by strong science, but he at least makes a plausible case.
Hart's family story is interesting, although at 352 pages, the book could have done with more editing.