Smoke and Mirrors: The War on Drugs and the Politics of Failure

In This Review

Smoke and Mirrors: The War on Drugs and the Politics of Failure

By Dan Baum
Little, 1996
396 pp. $24.95
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A journalistic account of the origins and development of a policy "as expensive, ineffective, delusional, and destructive as government gets." Baum, formerly a reporter with The Wall Street Journal and The Atlanta Constitution, covers the years from the early 1970s to the present, providing a warehouse of anecdotes to underscore his damning indictment of the drug war. The work lacks the analytical power of other anti- prohibitionist tracts (the best of which is the encyclopedic study by Steven Duke and Albert Gross, America's Longest War); nor does Baum address the dilemmas and conundrums associated with legalization. A sarcastic tone, together with an acute sense of the absurd, may be admittedly difficult to avoid when treating of this subject, but the author's indulgence in them goes beyond the recreational. Still, this is a powerful and alarming book, which ought to, but doubtless will not, prompt a rethinking of an unsuccessful policy that has yielded unintended and pernicious consequences.