Dan Baum, Smoke and Mirrors: The War on Drugs and the Politics of Failure (Little Brown, 1996)
Reissued in paperback by Back Bay Books in 1997, with a new afterword by the author.
Former Wall Street Journal reporter Dan Baum begins this treatise on the Drug War absurdity in 1969 with the Nixon administration, when marijuana gained its heavyweight title as "public enemy #1". More people died that year from falling down stairs than from drug overdoses, and the "War on Drugs" that Baum follows for three decades ended up costing Washington more than the Commerce, Interior, and State departments combined.
Through a series of over 200 interviews with 175 people, Baum builds a damning case against the government's disastrously wasteful drug eradication policy. As the title suggests, Baum doesn't bother to feign objectivity, but his work rests firmly on solid reporting and a seamless narrative. He is able to criticize politicians without vilifying them. The reader is left with the haunting notion that this war is more spectacle than substance, its players accidental.
Baum fans out, too, into discussions on the social and racial undertones of the government's drug eradication efforts, a struggle he refers to frequently as "symbolic." Blacks and members of the counterculture, Baum writes, became symbolic victims of the ill-advised policies as the war complexified into a sales scheme to mollify a constituency of paranoid middle-American voters.
Critics argue that Baum goes too far with this book, that even healthy government projects must be marketed, and that he should have relied more heavily on statistics and analysis to build his case. But Baum's interview work is undeniably strong, and the voices harmonize to make the issue seem patently untenable.
Dan Baum's Website
Interview with the author